“Free Range Catholics” – a Meeting with St. Leo’s Raggedy Band

Junia's Journal
July 4, 2022

This past week, Junia’s Journal had the pleasure of meeting with a group in Tacoma called “Saint Leo’s Raggedy Band.” This enthusiastic group of lay Catholics take their name from the song “The Raggedy Band” by Jim Manley:

The Raggedy Band is marching along
Folks keeping rhythm to the beat of the song
There’s a little boy playing on a dime kazoo
Holes in his hands match the holes in his shoes
Leading down the alley with the Raggedy Band
Stretching all the way to the Promised Land.

The Raggedy Band first formed at the beginning of 2020 in response to extreme clericalism at St. Leo’s parish in Tacoma. They channelled their frustration and anger at being stonewalled by the administration into a supportive community which began meeting and praying together every week. They organized a “litany of lament,” invited their former adult faith formation teacher to give them a class on alternative communities, and shared their joys and sorrows with one another. Meeting online throughout the pandemic, they had no particular agenda or master plan; they let the Holy Spirit guide them, “kind of feeling our way,” as one member put it. Since Lent, they have been reflecting on the question, “What is ours to do?”

Each week, the band starts with prayer and reflection on Scripture, then people break into small groups to share. They have a shared leadership model, with different individual members setting the agenda, choosing the prayers, or inviting outside guests. I asked them if they ever celebrated the eucharist together, and they replied, “We are eucharist for one another.” The members of the Raggedy Band hold space for each other, for the questions that have been on their minds, sometimes for decades. At this point, they told me, they are “woven together like threads.”

Some members still attend the institutional Church. Others returned to a more traditional Mass only to find there was too much that made them uncomfortable. (“It’s all guys – and they’re wearing funny hats and dresses!” was one remark) Still others are wondering if they even identify as Catholic any more. But the common denominator is the incredible koinonia (the Greek word for deep love and fellowship) that is shared. “We’re holding one another wherever we are,” said one person. “We are each listening deeply to the call,” added another.

Another common thread is the importance of an alternative faith community which is truly inclusive and at the same time timed to the depth of Catholic identity the Raggedy Band shares. As one member concluded: “People say we don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re already doing it!”