From Division to Unity: The Community of God’s Love

Malcolm interviews Joseph Loizzo from the Community of God’s Love in Steubenville. We discuss the way that divisions can arise in community life and how communities need to stay united.

Origins

The Community of God’s Love grew out of the Charismatic Renewal movement. It originated when the members of a charismatic prayer group wanted something more committed and intentional. Growth was very rapid. Within a decade or so there was more than 375 members.

Trouble in Community

This rapid growth came with a set of drawbacks. Many of the newcomers may have come in with unrealistic expectations. There was a lot of enthusiasm and zeal, but it wasn’t always very mature. Some of the people charged with leading others within the community were not that experienced. Over time, a certain kind of spiritual pride developed that led to an oppressive atmosphere. It came to be perceived that there was only one way of doing things if one wanted to be “truly holy”. This was very damaging for some of the members.

Eventually, some members asked for an intervention by the local bishop. After reviewing the situation, the bishop asked for a number of changes in the governance and structure of the community. At this point, many of the members became disillusioned and left the community altogether.

Spiritual Pride

This is a common theme in community life. The Gospel tells us “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”; but this can be taken in the wrong way.

For one thing, it can lead to an emphasis on one particular style of spiritual life. People can come to think that their way is the only way, and everyone else’s ways are inferior.

The external marks or practices of holiness can also become too important in people’s minds. Striving for holiness can end up being reduced to an easily quantifiable, measurable set of characteristics.

In combination, these traits lead to a lot of trouble. A competitive spirit can develop that leaves the weaker members behind. The spiritual life becomes all about “measuring up”, “Keeping up with the Jones”, a sort of “merit badge contest”. This can do grave spiritual and emotional damage to the members of community.

Those who are full of youthful zeal are perhaps most prone to this kind of mistake. As Joseph put it, these sorts of things are only realized in hindsight. He said that now the community has come to realize that everyone is striving for holiness, but no one will be perfect on this side of the pearly gates!

It is also important to realize that the commitment to a community is secondary to the commitments members have made to family or a state in life.

Division and Reconciliation

Among the members, a division developed over what spirituality the revamped community should adopt. Some of them preferred a more conventional charismatic spirituality, and some preferred a Franciscan spirituality. This caused the community to split, so that by the early 90’s there were two much smaller communities.

Over time, however, the leaders of the two communities discerned that it was God’s will for them to be reconciled with one another. Eventually, the two communities merged back into one community that was more tolerant of differences in spirituality. At this point the community adopted the name “Community of God’s Love” to mark their new focus on reconciliation and unity.

This is one of the essential aspects of community: we’re all in it together. We’re helping one another along the way to heaven. I’m not always right, and so I need others to challenge me. Community life can be like sandpaper on wood, sanding away the imperfections in each of us. If we expect perfection and uniformity in community, we won’t be able to do this properly.

In this way, community should be like the family. None of us chose our family members. That is the great thing about an authentic community; one becomes friends with people whom one would have never chosen if it had all depended on one’s choice.

In particular, a diversity of spirituality can actually be helpful, so long as it doesn’t become a point of division from others in the Church.

Structure

Like other charismatic covenant communities, the Community of God’s Love meets several times a month for praise and worship prayer meetings. There are are weekly small group support meetings, a monthly community Mass, and a Saturday Sabbath ritual to prepare for the Lord’s day. There are also a variety of other events and activities that occur from time to time, including service outreach in the local area.

The community is led by a five-person elected council. Each council member serves for a three year term, and can be reelected for another three year term, but then they have to step away for at least one term. The elections are staggered so all the members are not replaced at once. We discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of this model compared with communities that have more long-term, permanent leadership.

Fear of Commitment in our Culture

One issue that is affecting communities across the country is that younger people in our culture are very adverse to making long-term commitments. Joseph had a first-hand view of this cultural change, since he worked in collage administration for many years. This can be seen in falling marriage rates, greater geographic mobility, lower commitment to long-term jobs, and other social indicators. If community is necessary for fully living out Christian life, this hyper-mobility in our society is a serious problem. The solutions are far from obvious. One possible way to combat this tendency is to provide economic opportunities within the community, so that members don’t have to move across the country for jobs.

For more information on the Community of God’s Love, visit their website here.

Image of the Sacred Heart from All Saints Catholic Church, St. Peters, Missouri by Nheyob; CC BY-SA 4.0

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