Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
– Gal. 6:2
Reading passages from the New Testament, especially those on living in community, can seem dated. After all, those of us in the industrialized West might not even know our neighbor’s names, let alone have such an intimate relationship with them that we can respond to their needs. As lives become busier and more people live in increasingly isolated and car-dependent areas, it becomes harder for people to easily connect and spend time in authentic communities.
This is certainly the way my husband and I felt as newlyweds. We got married in college and had kids pretty quickly, making it hard to relate to the responsibility-free friends we had at school. At the same time, we started pursuing a relationship with Jesus and found ourselves even more at odds with the people around us. It wasn’t until five years into marriage, and many previous failed attempts at community, that we started finding people around us who also wanted to pursue a life rooted in Trinitarian Love.
It started with a book called The Year of Small Things and a desire to enter into a covenantal relationship with one other couple and their kids. We committed to meeting every week to share a meal with each other and to discuss a new monastic principle from the previously mentioned book each month. We started out strong, but unfortunately our year was disrupted with the advent of Covid-19. Even though we couldn’t meet as regularly (or in-person for a while) we still maintained (and continue to maintain) an intimate relationship with this family. We desire for them to spend eternity in heaven and they desire the same for us. There is an accountability in that relationship that I experience in few other earthly relationships, and I know it’s a direct result of the time we’ve spent together.
In one recent instance, I was complaining (again) about how overwhelmed I am raising three very active boys. My friend listened intently, but knowing me and that this problem wasn’t going to go away on its own, she gently asked, “So, what are you going to do about it?” Her question, born out of love and respect for me and my family, prompted a discernment to put my kids in part-time childcare, something I had been putting off for a long time despite many obvious signs it was time for me to take a break. She lovingly spoke the voice of God to me, which is why living in community is so important. The people around us, who love us and have promised to walk with us toward heaven, can speak truth into our lives even when we can’t see it ourselves.
It’s been a few years since we started that group, and the community has grown and developed over time. There are now seven active families in our community of friends, with a weekly women’s small group, a weekly men’s small group, various liturgical events (family-style stations of the cross, meals to celebrate feast days, etc.). We’ve also had five different retreats over three years. This group has grown slowly and organically. We didn’t start with high expectations or a systematic plan, just a desire to get to know one family better and an openness to what the Holy Spirit was asking us to do.
Over the years, our families have grown and we’ve been able to welcome in other people who, like us, desire to have a deeper relationship with Jesus. In our small groups and in our home, we strive to let our service grow out of this intimate relationship. In that vein, not everyone feels called to attend every event. In fact, one member of our group is a self-proclaimed night owl and will never attend the 6:00 a.m. small group that meets in my janky basement. But he is our resident poker-night host, the musical background to all of our high holy days, and an integral part of our community. We have countless other friends like this, who come not out of obligation but as an outpouring of their love, each in different and unique ways that are in keeping with their particular vocation and stage of life.
The people in our little community are all active members of our parish. We take on new parish initiatives, organize events, volunteer, and actively participate in the Mass. Our priests and parish staff have been known to reach out to us if they want to get the pulse on young families in our parish. In addition to benefiting our church, the people in our community are better for being together. We’ve been known to share cars, loan tools, watch each other’s kids, show up for our children’s milestones, and share whatever we have with other people who need it.
This group has truly been a gift to my family. We didn’t earn it or hustle for it. We just slowly and intentionally fell deeper in love with the people God placed in our lives. In my own fallenness, I constantly try to remind myself that this group was not born out of my own effort; it was a response to a call. This community, much like all the other things I’m afraid of losing on this side of heaven, belongs on the altar; to be offered up, blessed, and (eventually) broken for others. This group, and the people in it, are fellow brothers and sisters. I can see the body of Christ fully alive in them, and I look forward with joyful anticipation to worshiping God with them for all eternity at the marriage supper of the Lamb. ♦
Megan Ulrich lives with her husband and three sons in a charming little town in East Tennessee. She enjoys biking her son to school, coffee with friends, and convincing her husband to donate everything they own. Check out her website to sign-up for her monthly poetry newsletter. Her essay “Slow Christianity” appeared in the April 24, 2023, edition of Today’s American Catholic.