Community, created or made?

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?

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4 Responses to “Community, created or made?”

  1. Purple Says:

    Thanks, Nancy. Especially after a very frustrating day of talking only about the weather as we gathered around the refreshments.

    I have been lamenting to my spiritual director about a church calling themselves friendly. From their perspective they are a friendly church. In her brillence, my spiritual director said to me…friendly yes…deep, no!!!

    p.s. Always appreciate your comments at my place…and that you choose to call me Purple, when you know me IRL…thanks.

  2. Nancy Says:

    I think I may have posted this earlier but I read a comment in a book on evangelism that suggested that going to a new church is like going to someone elses family reunion. That holds, seems to me, whether you are a new member or a new pastor.
    I’m enjoying reading your sermons.

  3. Cindy Hanson Says:

    I’m with you Nancy, BTW, I subscribed here and have been waiting for what seemed like forever to be able to find time to make a thoughtful response since this post arrived in my e mail!!

    Community rests in my heart and I desperately desire to catalyze it in others. You are right it can’t really be done in one seed… not really. Complacency is a deadly epidemic running rampant, and… completely irreversible!!!

    In the Red River Valley, we now have 5 seasons of the year… spring, summer, fall, winter… and flood season. It never used to be EVERY year. Now, after how many desperate attempts to save our cities from a 15 foot wall of water we are again waiting, watching, and knowing, we’re going to have to do it again this year.

    It takes literally thousands of volunteers, not two or three, but 10’s of thousands, MILLIONS of sandbags, and highly energetic leaders that are tempered in crisis. Already the fear and exhaustion are welling back from the memories of last year, with vidoes being linked to facebook and and the news, heaven knows, the news is already trying desperately to prepare us for what is coming.

    For those that lost their homes last year, those that worked through broken bones, without rest… well… all of us in the city are wondering can we do this again, and how long will it take to come up with a permanent solution?

    As we’ve gotten closer, I began hearing reports from other ‘adults’ sharing about how their kids are HOPING for another flood. HOPING!!!And this was soon confirmed in talking with the college aged kids I work with… it wasn’t about getting two weeks off from school, it is because “people become the way they should be”, during the flood season.

    people become the way they should be… and in this our youth find hope.

    it’s true. we all witnessed the miracle first hand. A wave of the Spirit washed across the region drawing us all out in a blizzard to prepare! to prepare! The Hand of God can push a community into connection in one wide sweep. Christian or not.

    so why? why our community responds, and others do not, and watch disaster come? I refuse to believe that God is the only reason because then why would he spare one community and not the next? Why would He bless one church with an abundance of active members and others with a dwindling?

    There has to be a posture component that dwells in US. Like the widow. and her mite. Her exhausting, all giving, all suffering, and meager… widow’s mite.

    and in her mite… in our mite, we give… we give beyond our capacity to give, our neighbors give and we all do so in hope. we’ll do it over and over until God willing there is nothing left to give to. Just in our luck, God is so generous, we have the opportunities we do to give.

    …and thank you… I think I just wrote my next post!!! : )

  4. Nancy Says:

    Cindy, glad you subscribe to the feed. I find feeds to be really helpful in keeping track of blogs and other online resources.
    always glad to help with a blog post, thats what blogging friends are for!

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