Spiritual disciplines build community

fishfry2009_logoBecause politics is religion to many reporters, far too many religion stories are seen through that prism. If you want coverage and you're not embroiled in some hot-button issue or campaigning for some government action one way or another, you're probably not going to get any. That's the way media coverage works, but it's a shame. Think of how much of the life of religious communities plays out far away from anything political.

Growing up, my congregation used to always gather for soup suppers before our Advent and Lenten worship. It was just one of those things that bonded the community and brought us closer together. My Dad would make his world-class potato soup or autumn stew and various parishioners would show off their comfort food specialties.

Of course, on Fridays during Lent, we'd head up to the Roman Catholic Church in town for their fish fry. Tons of people who weren't Catholic would come because the Knights of Columbus had some kind of secret seasoning in the batter that everyone craved. I'm glad to see it's still going on.

Fish fry traditions exist in Catholic parishes across the country. Other groups have similar traditions. And yet like so many annual but non-political events, we never seem to hear about them.

So I was delighted to read this Associated Press story about how fish fries bolster Catholic unity during Lent:

Kids with skateboards and men with canes share tables. Warnings that "fish have bones" are plastered all over the walls. There are jokes, speeches -- and one complaint that the lemonade is too weak.

Scenes like this one in a Denver suburb play out each Friday during Lent under the fluorescent glow of a thousand Catholic parish halls. The old-fashioned Lenten fish fry soldiers on, giving Catholics an opportunity to observe their meatless Friday while bolstering their sense of community.

To a number of Catholics, the fish fry is also something more: a timeworn Catholic tradition that provides a safe haven from divides that have long roiled the U.S. church, a place where traditionalist Catholics, progressive Catholics and everyone in between can sit peacefully at the same plastic tablecloth.

We see so many stories about the bitter divides in religious communities over those issues near and dear to parishioners and clergy but we never seem to get much about what it's like to worship together or just exist in community together with people with whom you disagree. The fact is that, contrary to the image painted by many in the media, churchgoers agree on much more than they disagree on.

Anyway, the story is typically great Eric Gorski material. He takes readers through the history of traditions (such as saying the rosary and Eucharistic adoration) and how they shrank after the Second Vatican Council.

"There are people who are wondering whether or not some important things have sort of slipped away and could be brought forth," said James Davidson, a Purdue University sociologist and expert in American Catholic observance. "Not just because they are old, traditional and sort of conservative. But because they at some point mattered to people and could be a sources of strengthening Catholic identity in today's world."

The story provides examples and corroboration of the trend. And it shows that while conservatives and traditionalists kept the practices since the 1960s, many Catholic thinkers on the left are promoting them as well.

Back to the first parish mentioned, the story even shows how the fish fry has turned into something of a fish bake with an added option of baked mahi-mahi for fasters.

Just a nice story that covers some trends in Catholic parishes across the country. It would be nice to see more of these.

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