The People of Praise – and Other Expanding Ecumenical Covenant Communities

An Introduction

There are a growing number of ecumenical covenant communities throughout the world. This movement is a sign of the times, when Christians are beginning to bridge the differences that have long divided the Church of Jesus Christ and beginning to realize that what they have in common is much more important than what separates them. In the face of a society grown more and more hostile to historic Christianity, the support of newly found brothers and sisters in Christ is very welcome.

Some of the ecumenical covenant communities are joined together in networks, and some stand alone. Three of the larger networks of ecumenical covenant communities are the Sword of the Spirit, the People of Praise, and the European Network of Communities

Pope Francis recently established Charis International service for Catholic charismatic renewal and the promotion of ecumenism.CHARIS is according to its statutes, “an instrument to promote and work for unity in the body of Christ, as expressed in the prayer of Jesus Christ (John 17).” One of its most important objectives is “to promote the ecumenical dimension of charismatic renewal and foster the commitment to serving the unity of all Christians.” 

We are celebrating “a current of grace, the current of grace of the Catholic charismatic renewal. A work that was born… Catholic? No. It was born ecumenical! It was born ecumenical because it is the Holy Spirit who creates unity, and the same Spirit who granted the inspiration for this.”

Pope Francis, Pentecost Vigil, Rome, 3 June 2017

Three of the 18 leaders who serve on Charis International service team are from the Sword of the Spirit, the People of Praise, and the European Network of Communities:

  • Jean Barbara, from the People of God community in Lebanon and president of the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical “community of communities” comprising 94 local communities worldwide 
  • Bishop Peter Leslie Smith, an auxiliary Catholic bishop in Portland, Oregon USA, is from the People of Praise and its Brotherhood of celibate men, an ecumenical charismatic covenant community located in 22 cities in the USA, Canada, and the Caribbean
  • Deacon Johannes Fichtenbauer, a founder of the ecumenical covenant community in Vienna, Austria and president of the “European Network of Communities” (ENC) – an ecumenical “Family” of more than a hundred communities throughout Europe.
Video clip of Community neighborhood party and song fest

Who are the People of Praise?

Founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana USA, the People of Praise has grown into an ecumenical covenant community of about 1,700 members, located in 22 cities across the USA, Canada, and the Caribbean.

The following description of “who they are” is from their community website:

People of Praise is a charismatic Christian community. We admire the first Christians who were led by the Holy Spirit to form a community. Those early believers put their lives and their possessions in common, and “there were no needy persons among them.”

Jesus desires unity for all people. We live out this unity the best we can, in spite of the divisions within Christianity. We are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and other denominational and nondenominational Christians. Despite our differences, we are bound together by our Christian baptism. Despite our differences, we worship together. While remaining faithful members of our own churches, we have found a way to live our daily lives together.

Our community life is characterized by deep and lasting friendships. We share our lives together often in small groups and in larger prayer meetings. We read Scripture together. We share meals together. We attend each other’s baptisms and weddings and funerals. We support each other financially and materially and spiritually. We strive to live our daily lives in our families, workplaces and cities in harmony with God and with all people.

Our community life is grounded in a lifelong promise of love and service to fellow community members. This covenant commitment, which establishes our relationships as members of the People of Praise community, is made freely and only after a period of discernment lasting several years. Our covenant is neither an oath nor a vow, but it is an important personal commitment. We teach that People of Praise members should always follow their consciences, as formed by the light of reason, and by the experience and the teachings of their churches.

Like hundreds of millions of other Christians in the Pentecostal movement, People of Praise members have experienced the blessing of baptism in the Holy Spirit and the charismatic gifts as described in the New Testament. This is a source of great joy for us and an important aspect of what God is doing in our world today.

Founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, People of Praise has grown into a community of about 1,700 members. We are now in 22 cities across the US, Canada, and the Caribbean.

In 1981, in response to a call from God, we established the Trinity Schools—private Christian schools in South Bend, Indiana, Falls Church, Virginia, and Eagan, Minnesota. These middle/high schools have received a total of eight Blue Ribbon awards from the U.S. Department of Education. Trinity students, the majority of whom are not members of People of Praise, learn to ask questions, engage in spirited dialogue and draw their own reasoned conclusions, while pursuing the love of learning for its own sake.

In 2002, inspired by the Holy Spirit, People of Praise members began moving into some of America’s poorest neighborhoods. Since then, we have lived closely with our neighbors and worked together to help meet pressing neighborhood needs. Our efforts include running summer camps for hundreds of children, repairing neighborhood homes, hosting prayer meetings, growing healthy food on an urban farm and establishing a private elementary school, Praise Academy at Lakeside. Longtime local residents have credited these efforts with lowering the crime rate and making the neighborhoods more beautiful and peaceful places to live.


A Tribute for the People of Praise 
and the Covenant Communities Movement

by Ralph Martin

Ralph Martin, the president of Renewal Ministries, and one of the founders of the Word of God in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently defended the People of Praise and the Catholic Church’s support of the covenant Christian communities movement from recent negative media attacks. Some critics of covenant communities say they are ultra-radical and cult-like. Ralph, along with many other Christian leaders, including recent popes, refute this false view.

Ralph explained that people join covenant Christian communities because they want to live their whole lives for Jesus Christ and place everything under his Lordship. 

“You can’t do it on your own,” Martin said. “You need to be part of a group that is encouraging you and helping you move in the right direction.”

For him, he said, “Being in the Word of God was a very important way of expressing full dedication to Christ, full commitment to the brethren and a way of living out the call of the Second Vatican Council to laypeople to live in holiness and participate in the mission of the Church.” 

Martin said although a covenant community isn’t for everyone, every Catholic needs support and friendship in Christ. “Especially as the culture gets more secular, the only Catholics who are going to remain strong are those who have some support.” 

He believes communities like the People of Praise have been inspired by the Holy Spirit and are a sign of God’s call to the whole Church. 

“They wouldn’t exist unless people were encountering the Lord and experiencing the Holy Spirit,” Martin said. “It’s the only way people would commit themselves to this very dedicated way of life.”

At the same time, though, he acknowledged that in the early days of such communities, there was a lot of youthful enthusiasm that needed to be tempered over time.

For example, he said, for several years Word of God members attempted to hold all things in common, but it became unworkable as they tried to decide such issues as whose children would get to take music lessons. “It was consuming too much time to justly administer the common goods. The communities definitely needed to mature over time, and they did.”

Martin said the commitments made by members of covenant communities are nowhere near as comprehensive as the vows taken by members of religious communities. “People make simple commitments that can be dissolved at their own choice when they feel their circumstances have changed.”

“The People of Praise community and the network of communities they are linked with are wonderful examples of lay Catholic initiative,” he said. “Among their leaders are Notre Dame physicists, doctors of theology and educators, both women and men. They started and run a collection of very successful Catholic schools. One of their members has been named auxiliary bishop in Portland, Oregon. They are absolutely not a cult, but a wonderful fruit of Vatican II and a real blessing not only for their members but for the communities in which they live.”

Source of original Catholic news report by Judy Roberts:

top photos credit: © People of Praise website

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