Sunday, June 17, 2012

There's A New "Covenant Community" In Town

Looks like the covenant communities/shepherding-discipleship movement is alive and well in Maryland, and within walking distance of where I used to live.

Its website describes Triumph of the Cross Community in Frederick as "an ecumenical charismatic Christian community of disciples on mission" (translation: If you're Catholic, yours will be the compromised beliefs).  And they're also part of the "Sword of the Spirit," the umbrella organization of such communities which imparts even more top-down structure and doctrine without the ecclesiastical authority to do so (example: SOS' page on "media resources," not for contact with the media, but how to control the media in one's home.  Far be it for parents to try doing that alone!).

Like the Lamb of God Community from which I escaped, TCC (their abbreviation) has weekly "community gatherings" that are half prayer meeting, half teachings of some sort.  Chances are that like in LOG, you're expected to attend these meetings before all else, and they're more important than Mass or other services.  Also, woe be to you if you're not experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit through "praying in tongues" "words of knowledge," or best of all, being "slain in the Spirit."  All experience of the presence of God is emotional, right?  And I won't even start about the "praise and worship" music which feeds such hyper-emotionalism.

TCC also has weekly "celebrations of the Lord's Day," a Christianized verion of the Hebrew Shabbat.  Having been part of them, I question the need or the basis for such ceremonies, especially given the celebration of the Eucharist at each Mass; is the purpose of the celebration to make the leader into a quasi-priest?  Finally, regular attendance is expected in men's and women's groups, where it's highly possible that members will get pastoral counseling from those who have zero experience or training in it.

It appears TCC largely arose out of the Mother of God Community in Montgomery County, and thus is not as "new" as the title of this post would make it appear (thanks LC).

Perhaps TCC will be an exception, but I wouldn't surprised if it eventually yields many of the same problems that besieged LOG and other such communities:

  • Who watches the Watchmen?  No oversight of leaders 
  • Leaders like Jeff Smith proclaiming they know God's will for the community and its members (I was listening to one of his community gathering teaching talks on "fraternal and pastoral care."  #shudder#)
  • Leaders implying that disobedience of them is disobedience of God
  • The community and its highly structured activities supplanting the family in importance
  • Groupthink (dissenting opinions are quashed, no exchange of ideas)
  • Leaders learning of private personal issues that are none of their business
  • Lack of transparency about the community's finances
  • An inward focus, even in "outreach" activities (by that, I mean the ultimate point of outreach, say, to universities and youth, is not to improve their spirituality or religion, but to bring them into the community)
  • Consequent suspicion of outsiders
I hope I'm wrong, but it sure doesn't look like it.

13 comments:

minniemarsh said...

Much of what Paul says about TCC is based on many misunderstandings of what TCC practices, teaches, and is all about. He may have participated for a time, but clearly never understood it. I have been a member of an ecumenical covenant community in the Sword of the Spirit for 40 years. I raised my children in it. They are all married now with families of their own and doing well, following the Lord. Our faith is supposed to be a daily faith that affects everything we do. It's more than just sitting in a pew every Sunday. (Not that church is bad, but if that's all there is to your faith, it's not enough. Your faith needs to be reflected in your actions; how you act and speak, your morals, etc. We all attend our own churches and generally tend to be some of the more actice members of our respective churches. I would also say that because we regularly rub shoulders with so many different Christian denominations, it forces us to actually know what we believe and why. At the same time, when we come together we focus on what we have in common (i.e. we all would accept the Apostles Creed or the Nicine Creed; we all love Jesus and are trying to live our lives as he calls us to in scripture, etc. Together we're fighting to raise our children to love and follow the Lord in the midst of a world that actively promotes sin as the right way to go. It's a rich life. And no, our leaders do not control us. We are all responsible for our own decisions. Well, enough said. I doubt anyone will read this anyway but I couldn't let Paul's statements go unchallenged.

minniemarsh said...

Much of what Paul says about TCC is based on many misunderstandings of what TCC practices, teaches, and is all about. He may have participated for a time, but clearly never understood it. I have been a member of an ecumenical covenant community in the Sword of the Spirit for 40 years. I raised my children in it. They are all married now with families of their own and doing well, following the Lord. Our faith is supposed to be a daily faith that affects everything we do. It's more than just sitting in a pew every Sunday. (Not that church is bad, but if that's all there is to your faith, it's not enough. Your faith needs to be reflected in your actions; how you act and speak, your morals, etc. We all attend our own churches and generally tend to be some of the more actice members of our respective churches. I would also say that because we regularly rub shoulders with so many different Christian denominations, it forces us to actually know what we believe and why. At the same time, when we come together we focus on what we have in common (i.e. we all would accept the Apostles Creed or the Nicine Creed; we all love Jesus and are trying to live our lives as he calls us to in scripture, etc. Together we're fighting to raise our children to love and follow the Lord in the midst of a world that actively promotes sin as the right way to go. It's a rich life. And no, our leaders do not control us. We are all responsible for our own decisions. Well, enough said. I doubt anyone will read this anyway but I couldn't let Paul's statements go unchallenged.

Paul said...

Oh, minniemarsh, you sincere but deluded soul, where do I start?

First, reread my post. I was not part of TCC, and obviously you are not either. I was a "covenant member" of the Lamb of God in Baltimore, one of the most secretive of the "covenant communities." I am well versed on how such an organization "practices, teaches, and is all about" from firsthand experience. I was raised in LOG from childhood. I stand unequivocally by what I have written about LOG and CCs here and elsewhere on my blog.

To familiarize yourself with what the Sword of the Spirit and other CCs were really up to, read the documents published by former Servants of Christ the King songwriter John Flaherty on Scribd. Read about self-professed "dictator" Steve Clark and his "null set" which includes you and, at one time, included me. See how the LOG coordinators lied to the IRS when declaring LOG a "church" for non-profit status. Read the SOS Training Course and see how it undermined family life and conjugal love. Look at how Catholic the SOS and CCs were, but only when it was convenient for them to be so. And that's only a small sampling.

You are correct when you say our faith shouldn't be nonexistent on the other 167 hours of the week when we're not attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist. However, your response smacks of the Us Against The World elitism that pervaded CCs and the SOS--the belief that We Are The People Set Apart For God, And Everyone Else Not In A CC Can Take A Flying Leap. Who put you on the judgement seat of how one lives out his faith?

How would you know your leaders don't control you? To whom are they accountable? Steve Clark, maybe? Don't make me laugh. How many things said in confidence in the walls of your house are known to your coordinators? I bet it's more than you think. Also, do you believe all the bishops who got involved in curbing the excesses of CCs were wrong to do so?

You boast of "rubbing shoulders" with those of different denominations. I'm certain they're all supportive of the Catholic Church. My experience of ecumenism was a false one in that Catholics were expected to worship with Protestants/Evangelicals and honor their leaders (Bill Gothard, Larry Lea, John Wimber), but the reverse wasn't ever true.

"Together we're fighting to raise our children to love and follow the Lord in the midst of a world that actively promotes sin as the right way to go." More Us Against The World. I absolutely agree that sin is rampant and the world needs redemption, but it's not going to come from an inward-focused group that's neither in the world nor of it. It will come through the transformative power of Jesus Christ through His Body and Blood in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. If you really want to fight, do so via the Church Militant!

I too have said enough. I know you mean well, but I repeat: you're sadly deluded to remain a part of SoS. Even LOG eventually left SoS!

minniemarsh said...

I don't see the point of arguing back and forth with you about this. You obviously have your opinion and aren't interested in changing it. I will tell you though that the SOS is very different than when you were a part of it. I don't know much about the LOG community's past and what went on there but I do know what's going on in the SOS today. We have many checks and balances in place. Leadership changes around. We operate more by consensus. Every 5 years our communities have outside teams come in and interview the members of the community to see how life is going for them. It gives members a way to say what they think and is a protection for them. We also have regular member reviews of our coordinators. All of our leaders are accountable to someone. Our fully formed communities all have an outside coordinator from another community that is assigned to them as a resource and protection. Our top SOS leaders are from all over the world and it changes every 4 years. Right now our president is a man from Lebanon who is an amazing man of faith. As for community vs church, it isn't a battle between community and church. We want all our members to be good members of their church, as well as of their local community. And regarding the SOS Training course you spoke about, it isn't taught any more. I've never been through it and I've been in the SOS for 40 years. I thought it was only taught once in the WOG and was pretty much a disaster. (Isn't that the course that was taught just before the split in the WOG?) As for being inward focused, I think we were more so in the early years because we were focused on building a way of life and learning how to be "a people". But today we are very active in outreach and enourage all our members to do so and as a result, we are seeing a lot of growth. But outreach isn't just to bring people into the SOS. It's also about bringing people to Christ and strengthening them in their faith, weather they join us or not. Finally, regarding your solution to redeem the world as being in the eucharist, I am curious as to how the eucharist is going to do that. Obviously, you as a Catholic find it very life giving, but not all Catholics do. And what about the protestants and Orthodox? The Catholic Church doesn't even allow them to partake of the eucharist. So how will the eucharist redeem them?

Paul said...

It will do so when they come to the One, True, Authentic Church that Jesus founded upon Peter (the Rock). It's called evangelism.

Your zeal is evident, but your catechesis is weak at best. (Hey, so was mine when I came out of LOG.)

And you're right: I am on a mission to sound the alarm about self-important CCs and those who lead them. I appreciate your opinion, but will disagree with it in the strongest possible terms.

Thanks for stopping by.

Paul said...

By the way, I'm still waiting for someone -- ANYone -- to give a *Catholic* justification for the celebration of the "Lord's Day." And by that, I don't mean, "Because Fr. So-And-So says it is." I want to know what Church documents govern these activities.

minniemarsh said...

So if covenant communities today(including the Sword of the Spirit) really arren't what you think they are, do you really want to know that? Are you really open to believing that some of what you believe about us either is no longer the case or was never true? I think you've decided you know what's what and so further discussion is probably futile. I only entered into the discussion because you were saying things about my brothers and sisters that simply weren't true and I didn't want it to go unchallenged. Some of what you believe may well have been true for the LOG (I really don't know much about what went on there) but you've generalized it to a whole set of things beyond them and for whom those things aren't now (and/or never were) true. One final thought: When we heard the Lord call us to build covenant communities back in the late 60's and early 70's, many of us were young (in our 20s), new Christians, and inexperienced. We had the enthusiasm of youth but unfortunately without all the wisdom that comes with age and life experience. So yes, mistakes were made, and I'm sure more will be made in the future. [But we don't have a corner on the market. The Catholic church also has it's fare share of mistakes, as do other Christian denominations and movements.] Each community is different and the mistakes made in one aren't necessarily the mistakes made in another. But for those who stuck with it, many course corrections have also been made to correct those mistakes and we are much better for it. Are we perfect? No, and never will be until the next life. But what we've built, by the grace of God, is life giving and good.

BigBadSteelerDaddy said...

Minniemarsh, thank you for stepping forward to defend the Sword of the Spirit. Since you were in the group for such a long time, your views on the history of the SOS are invaluable.

You were around during the mid-80s and early 90s when at least 5 SOS communities were investigated by Catholic Bishops. Can you explain how the Sword of the Spirit views these investigations today? How they explain them to the current membership?

Also, if you don't mind, could you look back into the past and describe your experience of that time when the SOS was under attack?

Many thanks for anything you choose to share.

Thanks to Paul too, for the conversation.



Paul said...

Minnie, my experience with CCs is every bit as true as you say yours is. I wish you'd get your spiritual fulfillment elsewhere, but you probably won't. And if you refuse to see and acknowledge the abuses that have come from CCs and SoS, that's your prerogative. So you're right, we're talking past each other. But again, I take back nothing I said.

BTW, the Catholic Church has been around nearly 2000 years; SoS, one-one-hundredth of that. 2000 years later, there will still be a Catholic Church. I'll take bets now on SoS' staying power.

And hello to SteelerDaddy (ugh). "Attacks" by the Church? (double ugh) "Necessary interventions" is more like it.

Paul said...

And Minnie, before you decide that things have changed for the better in SoS, read this: Catholics Revolt Against The Sword Of The Spirit

minniemarsh said...

In response to BigBadSteelerDaddy who said:
"You were around during the mid-80s and early 90s when at least 5 SOS communities were investigated by Catholic Bishops.
Can you explain how the Sword of the Spirit views these investigations today?
How they explain them to the current membership?"

My answer:
1) These investigations were instigated by a relatively small number of disgruntled members and ex-members. In some cases it was also encouraged by outside groups that opposed our conservative Christian viewpoints.

2) While we believe that the criticisms of the SOS were exaggerated (and in some cases completely untrue), there was also some truth to many of the criticisms. We have done our best to hold to our vision and call (which we believe is from God), while also learning from our critics and from our mistakes.

3) From 1990-2000 the SOS made clarifications and adjustments to its teaching and approaches to many areas (e.g. membership requirements, pastoral care, community government, process for leaving a community). Membership in a SOS community is completely voluntary and members are free to leave at any time.

4) Since 1990 we have employed many protections to insure that communities are and remain healthy. Every community has an outside supervisor who assists the local leaders and to whom members can appeal if they have concerns about the community. SOS communities receive a pastoral visit every five years by a team of leaders who meet with all the members to review how they are experiencing community life and to give recommendations to the local leadership.

5) The SOS is an ecumenical association of covenant communities. Most of our Catholic communities have been approved as private associations of the faithful by their local bishops. In general our communities enjoy a very positive relationship with the local clergy of the churches to which their members belong.


BigBadSteelerDaddy's 2nd question:
Also, if you don't mind, could you look back into the past and describe your experience of that time when the SOS was under attack?


My response:
Those were difficult years. Yet at the same time they were wonderful years in that the Lord remained faithful to us. We reviewed our community life, improved and strengthened it; and we are far better off today as a result. I am very glad that my husband and I chose to persevere through those years. Our children are now grown and married. They are all solid in their faith and have all decided to become adult members of the SOS. It is a great source of joy for me to share committed Christian community life with my 3 adult children, their spouses and my 7 grandchildren.


In response to Paul's comment to check out the link re the Catholics Revolt..."

My response: Well...you do realize that that was written in 1990 (um...like 23 years ago.) As I said above, most of our Catholic communities have been approved as private associations of the faithful by their local bishops. In general our communities enjoy a very positive relationship with the local clergy of the churches to which their members belong.
I would also add that what you experienced (along with those people who signed the letter in your link,) should not be generalized to be the experience of all SOS community members back then. I can find many many more who experienced it as life giving and good. And just because one community had problem X, doesn't mean that all SOS communities had problem X. I'm not disputing that there weren't problems back then. But as I said above, we have done our best to address them and as a result, have made a lot of changes.

BigBadSteelerDaddy said...

Many thanks, minniemarsh, for your replies.

It is good to hear that the Sword of the Spirit eventually made 'healthy' changes to its system of pastoral care, and that it implemented safeguards to monitor and review each community's development.

And as you say, some problems may have been completely unfounded, while others turned out to be in need of consideration, with appropriate alterations made.

So looking back, do you think the Sword of the Spirit has any responsibility toward those it may have inadvertently injured before the healthy adjustments were made?

After all, some of these people were legitimately injured by teachings and pastoral models that later was corrected. What do you think the moral and Christ like response to these people should be?

Again, many thanks for corresponding on this matter.

BBSD

Paul said...

Minnie, I invoke my right to the last word here.

If SOS has changed so much, why is dissent still so frowned upon? And what amends (especially financial) have any SOS leaders made to any ex-members? I'm not exactly expecting my phone to ring anytime soon with a mea culpa from Dave Nodar, Fred Lessans, or Fr. Joe O'Meara.

You may choose to look at your community your way. I'll keep looking at it mine, and I certainly hope you don't have the same experiences I and thousands of others did. But if so, I'll be here to help you through the healing.

P.S. Send your coordinator on here to argue with me and I'll be happy to eviscerate him.