– by Brendan Lynch
God has called us to life together and to mission.
The Community of Nazareth was formed in September of 1984. A few years prior to that, a group of married couples used to meet together regularly as part of a movement known as Les Équipes de Notre Dame, the idea being to share as a group in a way that would strengthen their marriages. It so happened that most of the couples in that particular sharing group had also some involvement in the charismatic renewal. But they perceived something more was needed and especially that it ought to involve their children and indeed the wider Christian people.
Soon afterward, our founding leaders, Éanna Johnson and his wife Pat, were put in touch with the People of Hope, a lay covenant community in New Jersey. In the summer of 1982, they and their children paid the community a visit. There they saw a vision for what covenant community life could be in Dublin. On returning home the Johnsons shared their experience with the members of their group, and with some other friends. Éanna recounts that people’s responses “varied from instant when-do-we-start enthusiasm to cautious interest. The next two years,” he recalls, “were a time of prayer, discernment, discussion and finally, decision.” On 8th September 1984, at a retreat in Ballyvalloo, Co. Wexford, nine married couples, six single adults, and a priest, the late and beloved Fr. Cyril Byrne, each made their covenant commitment to God and to one another as the Community of Nazareth.
The community has slowly grown in number through the intervening 30 years. There are now 110 adult members and approximately 100 children and young adults under age 18 in the community, and we pack a fairly sizeable local parish hall every 2 weeks at our community gatherings. Many members live in suburban South Dublin, within 10 miles of the city center. A sizeable number of us live in one neighborhood, and most live within 15 minutes of there. This nearness of most of our houses brings great blessings to our life and in particular, it allows our young people to meet together regularly.
Thanks be to God, we have people of all ages among our members and so our community has a noticeable inter-generational feel. All our founding members were Catholic and at this point, about 95 percent of the membership is Catholic, with a small number from other Christian traditions. Among our members, one can find business people, an architect, a dentist, a pharmacist, accountants, actuaries, engineers, landscapers, Christian radio broadcasters, trainee teachers, housewives and more. We are also largely mono-cultural – nearly all are Irish!
Apart from our fortnightly gatherings, we also meet fortnightly in small sharing groups – separate men’s and women’s groups, in order to facilitate open personal sharing – and we have monthly married couple meetings to help us strengthen this key social unit in our communities. Our children from 8 to 17 meet weekly in 3 differing groups, based on age, and the older ones can bring friends along. They learn scripture, pray together, do service together and create environments where they can speak to others about Christ. For those aged 18 to mid-20s we have a youth outreach grouping known as UCO Dublin.
During the past five years or more, the Lord’s word to us has been, essentially, Mission, Mission, Mission! Although it is challenging in Europe to speak to others about Christ these days, we are keen to give it our best shot, trusting that the Lord is greatly multiplying the little we can muster. We believe his prophetic word to the communities in the Sword of the Spirit that “we are meant for more than this” and that “our ears will tingle” when we see all the young people he sends our way to follow his paths – indeed we are beginning to see these things already.
After some years of relatively low outreach activity, the community in the last 3 or 4 years has revived the running of Life in the Spirit Seminars, the seven-week course of talks and discussion that helped so many of us to learn who the Lord Jesus is and receive the power of his Holy Spirit. We have run these recently in some local parishes. As a result, people are connecting with the Lord and with the community. This year we have also run parenting and marriage courses in a local parish to good effect, helping fellow parishioners in these key areas of life and allowing us to get to know people who want to go deeper in the Christian life.
The UCO Dublin outreach for 18- to 23-year-olds aims to help community young people bring their own peers into closer contact with Christ and with our life as a community. Our own young people courageously invite friends and acquaintances along to join them in praise of the Lord. They meet on a regular basis in this context, and the good news gets spread abroad to more people. This is key in bringing the faith to the next generation.
Being part of an international ecumenical grouping of charismatic covenant communities, the Sword of the Spirit is a great blessing to our life. Through this, we have beloved brothers and sisters in many places around the world who share the kind of life we seek to live in the Lord. Relating to these people at international meetings and sharing teaching and pastoral resources help us remain strong in the call we have been given. Many of our young people have made deep and lasting friendships with peers in other communities in places like Belfast, Glasgow, London, Belgium, Munich, Poland, America and beyond. These contacts really seem to enliven and enrich their growing commitment to live their lives for God.
One of the ways we seek to bring others to Christ is to have many of our community meetings open to visitors. Most months, our gatherings on the first and third Sunday of each month are open to all, and as time goes on we find that more new people are attending and showing an interest in becoming part of our life.
Brendan Lynch is the senior coordinator of the Nazareth Community.