For nearly 2 years Orthodox and Catholic men have joined in the Pint Pipe and Cross, SF, (Not Pictured). We have been meeting in a local bar, the Edinburgh Castle Pub, for enjoyment of a book, a beer, and pipe, as well as for fellowship. This has been a growing experience for all involved. It continues to be a source of support and prayer, although sometimes we don’t much talk about the book we’re reading. (If you’d like to know more, reach out to me on FB for an invite to our next meeting.)
So I was overjoyed to hear a friend who felt that she would like to start the same sort of group for women. I had one piece of advice for her: meet in public. I had two reasons for this. Recent events have actually made the Public Catholicism even more important and so I will bring up a third reason further down in the post.
- There is no host. Asking someone to host (even on a rotating basis) leads to stress for that person. You want them to read the book (ideally) and have some prepared points to discuss, questions to raise, etc. Asking them to stress out (even only once a few months) about playing host is to add too much trouble. Also what if they have family or flatmates? What if their living situation is radically different enough to be of concern to them should other people see it? Meeting in public means no one has to be “It” this month, or any month.
- More importantly, People can see you doing your Catholic Thing. Evangelism is so important and at least once every couple of months, someone butts into our book group at the bar asking questions. It was even-more interesting the night a priest showed up in clericals. Going out in public as Catholics tags you and your group. Going to the same place month after month means that people expect you. You become a representative of the faith in that bar, coffee shop, or diner. People wonder who you are. They may want to be one of you.
It’s the latter point that is most important to me. Since becoming Catholic I’ve met so many local, native people. They were a rarity in the “newcomer” communities I’ve been a part of for the last 20 years. Newcomers are always present in SF. They’ve been beatniks, hippies, bankers/real estate people, gays, artists, and techies. Each group has found a new place to live here but has somehow managed to stay isolated from the rooted natives. It seems that the natives like it that way. Inasmuch as all the natives actually pride themselves on how much SF was, at one time, a Catholic City (25% of the Bay Area population still identifies as Catholic) this isolation is a failure of evangelism. We were tolerant – getting out of the way – when we should have been hospitable: telling these newcomers, Look, if you want to live in a City named for St Francis, come to church and hang. Become a real San Franciscan. Instead, natives have tended to hide away, to slowly retreat from the public square – except in politics.
It was the same in Buffalo: dozens of Catholic orgs hiding behind history and unwilling to reach out to the hippies, artists, and travelers who were moving in and taking over the tumbling-down Victorians. They might change things you know. Now that they have changed things, the OG folks are left in the dust.
It may not be the same where you are. But if you have a new industry in town, why are your evangelists not plotting to hold outreach? This brings me to my third point about going-public:
- Coronavirus / COVID-19 means that people are terrified of going out in public. Local businesses are feeling the pain caused by the panic. Being willing to go to a coffee shop or bar repeatedly when no one else is there will make you a hero. You’ll own the place when people start to creep back out in public. (The advice is for people who are sick to stay home… )
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