Where and How Do You Experience Community?
Today’s guest blogger is Cindy Spencer, Faith Formation Hub: Children and Family Ministries, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. She also serves on the Lifelong Formation Advisory Council.
The Church as a Place of Community
Earlier this year, my city celebrated its first ever Superbowl win, with a parade in below freezing weather with more people assembled on the streets of downtown than live within the city limits. It was a wonderful day, from the people picking up others waiting at bus stops when the busses were too full to stop, to the friendliness of strangers in our usually-reserved northern city.
It made me think a lot about community:
What is community?
Why does it matter?
Why do we seek it out?
Where do we find it?
I’m sure you won’t be surprised that it turned me to thinking about church.
Probably the number one thing I hear about church from people has to do with the desire to be in community, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. In our faith communities we find this in two ways – through communion with God, and through communion with each other. Together we can do things we can’t do alone. We can even believe things we can’t believe alone. In community we can see the needs of others, and we experience shared responsibility for each other. There is a synergy of being, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
I want my children to experience this type of community, a community which simultaneously supports them and requires something of them – a community which helps call them into the full person that they are in the process of becoming. Not so they can be great, but so that the community can be whole.
In his book, Vulnerable Communion, the theologian Thomas Reynolds states that belonging means that we’re missed when we’re absent. He doesn’t mean that we fondly wish someone was with us. He means that we are not whole, that the community is not all it could and should be, when our individual gifts and foibles are not present.
I experience community in my congregation through leading worship with the Gallery Choir; through our gathered prayers in the 9:00 service, led by children and adults together; through the faith stories told in Godly Play and the personal stories shared in the Parents’ Gathering. Community is the Boys and Girls Choir gathered for dinner, it is talking individually with others about the day to day realities of parenting, and it is in the planning with others for how we will observe the seasons of the Christian year.
Community is not always easy. In fact, it is OFTEN not easy. It requires showing up and being present, sometimes when I’d rather be doing something else. It means doing some things the way others have decided that we’ll do them rather than the way I prefer or find most natural. At times I feel like I’d rather be a hermit. And yet, I don’t function that way well for long. I need God, and I need others, in part because in community I often am reminded that my understanding of God is too small.
Where and how do you experience community at your church? How do you invite your children into this community? How do you know when you’ve experienced it?