From time to time here, I’ve been writing about community. What is community? How do we experience it? How do we nurture it? Why does it feel so elusive sometimes?
Some days I read the news and wonder where our sense of the common good has gone? What has happened to our care and concern for each other? I have two rather bleak drafts that focus on the larger societal aspects of community. Perhaps I’ll post them , but not today.
Today I want to think about community in small, personal ways. I’m not sure, but that may be the only real way we can affect community.
Shirley Guthrie in his book Christian Doctrine makes the interesting statement that early Christians didn’t set out to form the church, but rather they discovered they were the church. At it’s best church is organic, after all we are the body of Christ. It’s hard to regulate organisms. But organisms do need structure and order. So there is always a tension between structure and freedom. Life together is a series of adjustments. Give and take. apologies and forgiveness.
Community, at least on a small scale, is some sort of living thing and it takes time to grow it. It takes effort to nurture it, to cultivate it. We need to intentionally prepare for it. We need some structure and order- rules, if you will, that help us get along. And then we need to allow room for growth. Room for the new shoots, the unexpected flowers.
Community, I think, can’t be forced. It doesn’t work to put a bunch of people together and expect they will be a community. Teachers will tell you that. Anyone who has tried to facilitate any sort of a small group will tell you that. Some groups “click” and community grows. Others get along but don’t last. It’s not that there is a particular problem in these groups, the experience can be good and valuable, but whatever makes for community and ongoing relationships simply isn’t there.
All this, for me, makes community frustrating. I can’t make it happen and I don’t like that. Community proceeds at it’s own pace and in it’s own ways. A friend once remarked that he thought it took about 5 years before one could truly feel at home in a new town. Community takes time. My experience bears that out.
It takes years of chats over the back fence. Years of borrowing flour and sharing extra brownies. Years of watching each others house when we’re out of town. Shared glasses of lemonade, impromptu cook outs, helping a neighbor clean their gutters. Years of tiny gestures given and received.
In church it takes lots of food drives and pot luck dinners. Years of committee meetings, baptisms and funerals. Worship and sacraments experienced together. Christmas and Easter. And Sunday after Sunday of Ordinary time.
There’s just no way around it, authentic community takes time. It takes presence. You and I have to show up, day after day, week after week. And not just show up, we need to greet each other, have a thousand small conversations. You ask about my kids. I ask about your parents. We talk about the weather. We talk about our jobs. We talk about our faith, our hopes, our fears. We pray for each other, we ask each other for prayers.
Just like for the first disciples, over time, community emerges. Community requires our participation. It won’t happen if we don’t make the effort. Yet our efforts alone aren’t enough. God is at work. God is at work in ways unseen and seen. In big things and small things.
I don’t think we would be wrong, given our propensity to be selfish and self centered, to think of community as a miracle. Community turns our hearts outward toward each other and towards the One who is community.
A miracle, right outside our door.
I’d like to know, what do you think?