By JULIE DOWNS
COLUMBIA The Diocese of Charleston’s newest faith community may not have a building, but the lack of real estate provides a unique opportunity to focus on what really makes a church: its people.
Sister Clare Reinert, SSND, was named pastoral administrator of the Catholic Community Northeast of Columbia in August. There is a growing number of Catholics in the area and it is the first time the diocese has employed the model of ministry of appointing an administrator to a developing community to work with its people to develop a Catholic presence.
“The primary focus is on the community, on the people themselves as a people of God,” Sister Clare said. ” I walk in with the assumption that we have a church. They are the church.”
Sister Clare comes to the Diocese of Charleston after 15 years with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles where she was the director of the Pastoral Councils’ Office. The Catholic Community Northeast of Columbia includes Bythewood, Elgin, Killian, Lugoff, Ridgeway and Pontiac.
The establishment of the community emerged from a cluster meeting of the nearby parishes where it was decided that there needed to be a Catholic presence for the people. Sister Clare said that the growth in the area has been tremendous, with many families moving in within the last two to five years. In Blythewood alone 6,000 to 8,000 homes are anticipated to emerge in the next three to five years, she said.
In a multi-stage process similar to the Synod of Charleston, Sister Clare said she will work with the Catholics to determine what sort of presence will best meet their needs; a parish, a community center, a retreat center or some combination.
Sister Clare said they are currently in the pre-visioning stage. She is conducting house meetings and by November hopes to have met with 500 families. The starting point for discussion is three basic questions, she said: 1) What is their connection to the Church? 2) What would be better? and 3) What do they see as the purpose or mission of the Church?
The meetings have served as a way both for her to get to know the people and for the people to get to know each other, she said, and share their common issues, gifts and problems. Many are not native South Carolinians and are experiencing the adjustment of coming from an area where the Church was “more convenient.” Now, due to their distance from parishes, involvement must be more of a priority in their lives.
The response has been good, she said. ” I am stressing presence, participation and service. A strong community needs that they are responding well to service.” Lay leadership will be key, she said, as will members’ willingness to not only serve each other in the Catholic community, but the community at large. “They will receive from the community and give to community in the true sense of stewardship.”
Sister Clare said they will next move to having larger gatherings (the current house meetings typically involve 10-12 families) and, near the beginning of the year, they plan to have their first assembly where they will affirm a leadership team and introduce the vision of the Church of Charleston and how it affects their area. After that they will move into the next stage of planning and visioning, she said.
Sister Clare said they have established a membership committee. Those in the areas included in the Catholic Community Northeast of Columbia interested in getting in contact with them should call (803) 736-4876.