A few years ago a friend added me to a Facebook group called Catholic Creatives. I browsed through it, and to my utter joy there were creative people in the Church! And they were coming together to be sassy about the problems Catholics face! I felt like I had found my heroes.
I admired them but kept a reverent distance, like art in a museum. After all, I was just a little youth minister / photographer without an updated portfolio or any well-defined artistic ability. There were big-name people in this group, and they were doing amazing things. I knew that if I ever met these people, I would want them to become some of my best friends, but I needed to become impressive before that could happen.
And so I lurked … for years. I read every comment on every thread. But I stayed on the outside. I was hiding; I was safe. I watched members start exciting new projects, watched as the Summits changed people’s lives.
I watched and I said, “I’m so encouraged and empowered,” but I was still too afraid to dream of actually being part of what was happening.
While I was background lurking on CC in the Internet world, in my real world I felt like I was sliding further and further being the person I wanted to be. I finally got the youth ministry job that I had studied and worked so hard for, and it turned out to be emotionally abusive and scarring. I moved home. I started taking care of my dying grandfather. I was deciding that creativity and purposeful work were just a pipe dream, and I needed to wake up. I did any little job I could to feed myself and set about the long work of healing. I felt like I was preparing a grave for a part of myself that couldn’t live in the real world.
In February 2018, while browsing Facebook (which I did a lot in those days), I saw an invitation to a CC Meetup in Detroit. I responded yes, but I wasn’t even sure I was actually invited, or if it was just a fluke.
The day of the meetup arrived and I sat in my bed sobbing. I had hit the bottom of my struggle. I didn’t want anyone to see me, let alone these Grecian gods of creativity I had been worshiping for years.
I was on the verge of bailing. At the last possible minute, I looked at myself on the cliff of indecision. I realized as I sat staring at my closet that if I didn’t go, I would regret it for the rest of my life. The weight of missing the chance to meet these people, who had formed and inspired me so deeply, was too heavy. I forced myself, literally nauseous and shaking, out of bed and into the car.
I arrived at the Meetup and tried to scope out places to hide. People started arriving while I stood in the bathroom, rehearsing my lines in case they asked me about myself. I walked into the event, and a man in a mustard yellow sweater walked straight up to me, grinned, and said, “Hi! Who are you? What do you do?!”
I froze as horror washed over me. This was one of the people I knew well from their Facebook presence. I knew them by name, profession, and opinion—because I creeped while I lurked. I sputtered out, “Oh Hi, I’m Fiona. I work in youth ministry.” “Safe I thought.I’m doing just enough retreats to make it true but vague.
And then that freaking man in a cardigan asked, “What parish?!”
My brain started whirring. Shit. I didn’t practice for this question!. Out loud, I said, “Ummm, I’m actually not at a parish right now. I’m recently back in the area and I’m freelancing.”
The response was immediate. “Great! Where’s your business card?”
I was stunned. This dude had to be kidding. Why couldn’t he just leave me in the cave to hide? And then I broke down and I said what was true. “I’m unemployed. I was in a horrible youth ministry job and I’ve been left scared. I’ve moved home and I’ve been speaking at events and helping an old man die. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be here.”
And he didn’t say, “Huh, that sucks, I’m doing all of these great things.” He didn’t walk away awkwardly and pretend the conversation didn’t happen. Instead, he looked me right in the eyes, gripped my arm, and said, “I’m so sorry. It’s ok. It doesn’t always have to be horrible. I’m so glad you came.” And then, he stayed. He called people around and asked me to tell my best story. He sat at my table and laughed at my jokes and applauded my ideas. I relaxed and leaned in. I took a risk and got personal.
When the event was over, that creative said something to me that stuck to my ribs like oatmeal on a cold morning:
“You have something really special about you, and you need to know that it’s going to be ok. You need to know that you have something to offer. Please don’t give up yet. I can’t wait to see where you use your gifts.”
That little conversation sparked something new in me. I admitted to myself for the first time what I really wanted, and it wasn’t the life of a lurker. I wanted to be part of the community. Maybe I didn’t have to become impressive first. Maybe I didn’t need to succeed to belong. Maybe it wouldn’t take becoming a prolific painter, or a master videographer, or a marketing whiz. What if all I had to do was show up? It looked like a start, so I began taking small steps — I decided to actually join the community and take part in the discussion. I decided it was ok if people didn’t agree with everything I said. I started telling other people that there was a creative home for them in the Church.
A year later, in February, I looked at my life. I was working full-time in the creative field. I was creating some of the richest and most fulfilling friendships of my life. To this day, I am learning new skills, uncovering new ideas that I didn’t know I had — and I am learning to hope again. Every day I am genuinely empowered and inspired to live life alongside the men and women of Catholic Creatives.
I want to share this story because I believe in my depths that if we keep the community safe behind our computer screens, then we will never live to see a New Renaissance.
Catholic Creatives believes this too, and is launching its most important initiative this year, CC Events. We know that connection takes ideas and makes them reality. This connection happens best in person. These events will be a stepping stone for the nameless, faceless profiles to become actual, flesh-and-bone people with whom we can tell our best stories and admit when we don’t have it all together.
If you’re sitting alone in your room today after years of lurking, I want to say this: I see you and you’re important. You don’t have to qualify to be a part of this community. I certainly didn’t have much to show for the name “creative,” but I’ve learned since that creativity is a process, not a title. You’re welcome as you are — becoming creative (and, let’s be honest, becoming Catholic), just as I still am.
If you’ve been coming to events for years, and you feel like you’ve been fed by the community, I want to invite you to begin to look for the shadows, look for where people might be hiding and invite them deeper.
If you’re waiting for an invitation to lead, this is it. This is the opportunity to take an online community into reality. If you aren't ready for a regional, just put on a dinner and invite some creative friends around your table for meaningful conversation. If that is too small for you, do a meetup. When we are willing to stop posturing and protecting ourselves, we are free to invite and empower, and in that connection, community is born. I know that I’ve seen it firsthand, and I’m thrilled to watch as more and more of us step into the family, realizing we’ve belonged from the start.
I’ll just leave you with this: Check Out CC Events, and if you feel so moved, GET INVOLVED. Start simple. Put on a CC Dinner. Get some friends together and do a CC Meetup. If you have the means or infrastructure, go big with a CC Regional. Whatever you decide, just take a step out of the shadows.
This community needs you.
Blog by Fiona Cousino
A seer of souls, Fiona brings light into the life of all she meets. She’s a member of Sherwood Fellows and a now active part of the Catholic Creative community.