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Mother of God Community is a Catholic and ecumenical charismatic community located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area of the United States. The Community office and grounds is located in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Under the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, the Community is recognized as a "private association of the faithful" with its governing statutes approved by competent Church authority; in this case by the Archbishop of Washington. Members of the Mother of God Community believe they are called to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to grow in the knowledge of God through daily prayer, fellowship, evangelization, and service to the Church. Members include Christians from all walks of life – families, couples, priests, and singles, college students, seminarians, and retired people. There are members and affiliate members, but only about a dozen members actually live in the Community's large residential house.

Origins

The Mother of God Community began in 1966 right after the close of Vatican II, when various housewives, particularly Edith Difato (1924 - ) and Judith Tydings, and other individuals within Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac, Maryland, began experiencing a new awakening of the Holy Spirit and of God's love in their lives. They began meeting daily after Mass and read the documents of Vatican II and other works about the role of the Holy Spirit in both the lives of saints and in those of ordinary people. The first recorded prayer meeting took place on June 7, 1968, in the parish hall of Our Lady of Mercy parish in Potomac, Maryland with more than 90 persons in attendance. It is considered by many as the first prayer meeting in the Eastern part of the U.S. of a the movement which would later be called the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, for it was shortly thereafter that participants began hearing about similar prayer meetings and outpourings of the Spirit in places like Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, South Bend, Indiana, Ann Arbor, Michigan and other cities. The prayer group in Potomac, which is within the Archdiocese of Washington, began communicating with these and other groups and soon Catholic Charismatic prayer groups began springing up throughout the U.S. and eventually all over the world. The group in Potomac became a catalyst for the start of other new prayer groups within the Washington, D.C. area and in other regions.

On March 24, 1971, the budding community was formally incorporated in the state of Maryland under the name Potomac Charismatic Community, Inc. In 1972 the name "Mother of God Community" was chosen; reflecting the Community members' desire to be like Mary, the Mother of God, who received Christ and became a vessel for sharing his life. The legal name, however, is still Potomac Charismatic Community, Inc. As the group grew to several hundred in number, it required more structure. A pastoral team was formed made up of lay people and priests. Joseph (Joe) Difato, Edith's eldest son, became the coordinator of a small pastoral team. In the mid-1970s, in order to live closer to one another in affordable homes (largely townhouses), members of the Community began to move to the newly built town of Montgomery Village, which adjoins Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The first Mother of God Community Covenant was signed by members in 1974. The Community covenant, although revised over time, still includes a commitment to pray daily, to examine one's conscience and repent from sin, to read scripture, to attend prayer meetings regularly, to participate in MOG activities, to love and support one another, to support the Community financially according to one's means, and to do other related matters. Members of the community include married couples, young people, older singles, housewives, priests, and consecrated religious. Most all of the members are Catholic, but Christians from other traditions have always been welcome and each member is expected to attend a Sunday worship service or Mass. Many community members assist their local parish as eucharistic ministers, lectors, sacristans, choir members, parish council members, and other ministries.

As in most Catholic Charismatic groups, the primary focal point for the Community has always been the large open prayer meeting held weekly. Prayer meetings are times of worship, singing, sharing, and openness to the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, especially "word" gifts: prophecy, the word of knowledge, speaking and singing in tongues, and more. Healing prayer and intercessory prayer are also part of these meetings. A teaching or exhortation may also be given at the prayer meeting.

Past Structure

From 1974 to 1995 the coordidators of the Community were Edith Difato, Joe Difafto, and sometimes a few others. However there were many other leadership positions. In the 1970s the Community was divided into three geographic regions (Potomac, Rockville, and Montgomery Village) and later, when most members had moved to Montgomery Village the regions were divided somewhat by age or state in life. Each region had a head and within each region were heads of cell groups (usually called clusters), which were generally small men's and women's groups, and heads of young men and young women households or heads of extended family households. There were also heads of various community ministries and others with assigned responsibilities. To a large degree each member was expected to discuss and receive discernment for his or her life with his or her designated head (and this head might change every year or two) and the information shared was often passed up the hiearchical line of authority in written or verbal form. Discernment included ones purchases, budget, career, marriage, home location, raising of children, prayer times and many other major or minor issues. Who, when and if one could court (not date) was especially discerned and of course the person courted (under supervision) should also be in the Community. At its height in the 1980s Community membership numbered some 500 or more individuals.

Community School and Property

In order to provide a Catholic school for their children, in 1987 community members voted to purchase a wedged-shaped piece of land along Goshen Road on the northern perimeter of Montgomery Village. The Mother of God School began that Fall in an unused public school building in the Aspen Hill area of Montgomery County, Maryland, and two years later the School was transferred to the a newly built, three story structure on the purchased property in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The third level of the School building was largely devoted to office space and the other two stories housed the School, K thru 8th Grade. A few years later a building with four classrooms and large gym with a vaulted ceiling was added to the School. Today the gym is not only used by the School, but is also used as a place of worship for a Byzantine Catholic community on Sunday mornings, for the Community’s weekly prayer meeting on Sunday evenings, and for other activities. Originally, as another Catholic school was being built for parishes in the northern part of Montgomery County, the Archdiocese of Washington had requested that the Mother of God School be restricted to Community members and their children. However, it is now open to all children and, although still a private Catholic School, it is affiliated with the Archdiocesan School System and tries to adhere to that System's policies.

At the same time that the School was built there was erected on the property a three story, monastic like residence which contains five apartments, a large chapel, living room, library, and a common kitchen and dining room. The residence, now known as “Goshen House,” is the center for many community gatherings and has been the home of various couples, singles, priests, and consecrated religious who have felt called to live together in Christ in a more immediate sense just as Jesus lived with and formed his early disciples in a common lifestyle. At one time Joe Difato and his family had lived in one of the apartments.

It is a coincidence that the Mother of God Community property is directly across the street from a parish site, St. John Neumann Catholic Church, where most Community members also attend.

The Word Among Us

As the Community grew new methods of evangelisation were explored. The first edition of The Word Among Us, a monthly Christian magazine, was published in December 1981 by members of the Mother of God Community who hand stapled the first copies together. However, under the general leadership of its publisher, Joe Difato, the magazine gradually grew and was eventually translated into several languages and distributed worldwide. By the 1990s, it had become the Community's prime cash engine.

The original format of the magazine was simple. It consisted of feature articles and daily meditations based upon the readings of the day in the Catholic Church. Articles and meditations were originally written by members of the Mother of God Community. It also carried the Imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Washington which increased its appeal to its prodominantly Roman Catholic audience.

After the reorganization of the Mother of God Community in 1996, Joe Difato formally left the Community taking the rights to the magazine with him.

The Word Among Us continues to be published under the control of Joe Difato although it no longer carries the imprimatur.

Assessment by the Archdiocese

From its earliest days the community enjoyed good relations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Washington. By the early 1990s Mother of God Community began looking into the possibility of the Community being recognized as a Catholic "private association of the faithful." Under the guidance of Fr. Theo Rush the Community won provisional recognition from the Archdiocese in 1993. Permanent status required a review of the group's statutes and operations and many Community members volunteered to be on a committee to draft statutes for the governance of the Community.

In 1994, under the instructions of Cardinal James A. Hickey, a self-assessment was begun as well as an outside assessment by one of his advisors, Sister Elizabeth McDonough. For the self-assessment Community leaders designed and gave a 135 question survey to its current members and former members were also invited to participate. For the outside assessment members and former members were invited to speak privately with Sister McDonough. The survey results were generally quite positive, but private meetings with Sister McDonough (which remain anonymous) were apparently not so positive as it gave an opportunity for many current and former members to vent their struggles, complaints and concerns about the Community.

At the same time, past members of the Community invited persons associated with Cult Awareness Network to begin meeting with current and former members. At the meetings it was alleged that Community leaders had engaged in both financial abuses and in "cult-like practices" such as the abuse of authority, groupthink, adulated leadership, elitism, marginalization of nonconforming members and so on. The financial abuse accusations were eventually proved to be unfounded (after a $30,000 financial investigation authorized by the Archdiocese of Washington and conducted by the accounting firm of Peat Marwick Mitchell). The accusations that the Community had sociological cult tendencies were harder to prove or disprove. However, the impact of these attacks began to divide and breakdown the Community.

Tensions came to a head when, on the evening of Sunday, May 21, 1995, at a Mother of God prayer meeting, Judith Tydings, Edith Difato's co-founder, stood up and related about her own marginalization within the Community and read sections of a letter written by former Community member, Fr Tom Weinandy, which outlined his thoughts on the positive and negative aspects of the community. She recommended that there be new leadership and that an interim body be appointed.

Re-organization

On Saturday, September 23, 1995, the Archdiocese of Washington announced it wanted to make changes of leadership in Mother of God Commuity. Cardinal Hickey visited the community, first holding a private meeting with the Difatos and then a public address to several hundred community members.[1]

In the private meeting Joe Difato urged the Cardinal to change his plan of giving a public address to community members (who were then waiting for him to arrive) and to give the community time (90 days) to make a transition to new leadership and perhaps avoid sharp divisions in the community. However, Cardinal Hickey, after consulting with members he intended to appoint as interim leaders, rejected Difato's proposal.

In Cardinal Hickey's public address, he called the Community "a gift from the Lord" that allowed members "to take your faith much more seriously, to grow in your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ." However, Hickey raised concerns about the teaching, pastoral practices and leadship of the Community.

Firstly, the Cardinal raised concerns about Community teachings, citing that many were too Protestant, or not Catholic enough. He was concerned about the Community's teaching especially with regard to baptism in the Spirit and its relationship with the seven sacraments of the Church, the centrality of the eucharist to Catholic worship rather than just prayer meetings, and the authentic Catholic understanding of the essential goodness of creation and the dignity of the human person—that though men are sinners, those who are not yet in the Church are not evil or depraved; the sacrament of marriage and equality of spouses, as well some aspects of the Toronto Blessing such as being resting in Spirit which was being practiced by many in the Community at the time.

Secondly, he had concerns with the pastoral practices of the Community. Lay people within the Community, he said, had too much personal authority over other people’s lives. Some Community children were told that the Community had more authority than their parents. Hickey said that because of Mother of God's pastoral practices, members were led to speak of very personal things in a manner that did not protect their right to privacy and confidentiality and which had the effect of leaving them vulnerable. He was concerned about the children and young people within the community. He was afraid that some had been seriously harmed by what he saw as the systematic undermining of parental authority. Furthermore, he requested that anyone who had personal information about other members-"in notebooks, in computer files, in whatever form, that you destroy it, lest it be the source of future embarrassment or harm." Written records were kept of members and visitors spiritual interests, growth, level of experience in discipleship classes,etc.

Lastly, Cardinal Hickey reiterated the request he made in 1993 that the leadership be changed and he appointed some interim leaders who were charged with responsibility to lead the Community until such time as new leaders were formally elected under Community statutes that were finalized and approved by the Archdiocese. After the Cardinal's address, many of the members most loyal to the Community's older leadership left the Community immediately and eventually formed a new community outside of the Archdiocese called the Triumph of the Cross. After a while many other Community members also left leaving perhaps 100 members.

On February 1, 1996, the Difato family formally left the Mother of God community after securing promises that they would be protected against any future lawsuits and that financial records would be sealed for five years. In the arrangement all Community property, other than the Word Among Us, was to be turned over to the Mother of God Community, debt free. A year later, on Wednesday, February 14, 1997, a much smaller Mother of God Community, operating under new procedures, a more democratic leadership, won formal approval from the Archdiocese of Washington. Since the Community's restructuring allegations of abuse in the Community have discontinued.

Current Structure and Leadership

Mother of God Community (MOG) is recognized within the Archdiocese of Washington as a "Private Association of the Faithful." This means religious vows or consecrated life is not required to be a member and affiliation or membership is totally voluntary. This is a canonical designation (under the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church) which indicates that a religious organization is "officially approved" for participation by Catholics. The process of obtaining this recognition included the writing of statutes governing the life of the community and the holding of elections for the community leadership. The community is still approved by the Archdiocese of Washington under its current Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

Under its approved statutes the Mother of God Community is lead by its Pastoral Council composed of six members each elected by the covenant members of the Community to a four year, staggered term with two members coming up for election every two years. The Council elects a Chair who now has the title (and the responsibilities) of Coordinator of the Community. For a number of years the Chair/Coordinator had been noted scripture scholar and consecrated lay woman Dr. Mary Healy, SSL, STL.[2] However, in June 2008, Dr. Healy left her position in the Community to become an assistant professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. The current Chair/Coordinator is Hall Miller, a local businessman and longtime member of the Community. Serving with him on the Pastoral Council are three other men and two women. Although covenant members, which number less than 100, are the only ones who vote there are probably some 150 other individuals who have affiliate membership or are considered "friends" of the community and are sent Community e-mails.

Priests and Scholars Associated with the Community

The Mother of God Community has always attracted numerous priests and scholars as in-resident members for a period of time or as friends or affiliate members.

The Community Chaplain and Spiritual Advisor in-residence is the noted Catholic priest, scholar, author and professor, Fr. Francis Martin (SSL, STD, STL) the former "Cardinal Maida Chair" of Scripture at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit[3]. He is also a professor at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC and the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family also in DC. His lectures from Mother of God can be found on various sites such as Our Lady's Chapel [4] and Hasneh Media.[5]

Another priest who is a member of the Community is Fr. Fred Close, Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Northeast Washington, D.C. Other past in-resident member priests have included Fr. Theo Rush, a Franciscan priest and Canon lawyer from Australia; Fr. Peter Hocken, a British priest and noted author/historian about the Charismatic and Pentecostal Renewal; Fr. Thomas Weinandy, Fr. Mike Duggan, Fr. Gerard Beigel, Fr. Steve O'Donnell, and many others.

Other scholar friends of the Community include the Jesuit priest, Fr. Peter Ryan (STD),[6] a professor of Moral Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmittsburg, Maryland; and Dr. John Grabowski, Associate Professor of Moral Theology at Catholic University.

Mother of God Ministries & Activities

The Mother of God Community Web site[7] lists and describes a variety of ministries and activities including the Mother of God School; weekday morning prayer and mass; a monthly, charismatic Community Mass on Saturday evening; the weekly Sunday evening prayer meeting; a children's ministry; a summer camp program; youth ministry; young adult ministry; men and women fellowship groups and retreats; Marian Cenacle; an arts guild, and volunteer activities with Mother Teresa's Gift of Peace Convent in the District of Columbia. In 2008 and 2009 the Community also sponsored various area wide conferences, courses, and healing services including two featuring Catholic Evangelist Damian Stayne from England.


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