1) a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common
2) a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals
When I was first invited to write for New Christian Woman, I was drawn to the intentionality behind the site, the community it’s creators sought to, well, create. Community is one of my favourite things. I love the challenges and the blessings of community and I’m passionate about the Church’s call to communion. Communion is my favourite name for Holy Supper. In the Eucharist, we commune with God, and with one another. This communion is so important to me that I asked for Holy Supper to be offered at our wedding, and my favourite part of that day aside from being pronounced husband and wife was partaking in Communion together and then witnessing our families and friends come forward and participate in Communion too.
I was raised in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, at a congregation in Ottawa. Beyond the weekly services we attended, the church played an important role in our family life in other ways. My mother ran a pre-school in the church hall when my brother and I were young and we attended a mid-week children’s program. Youth group, Vacation Bible School, summer camp all formed connections for me, some of which have lasted a lifetime (two of the girls I grew up with travelled to visit me in South Africa last year!) My parents were involved in the church as teachers and elders and when I left home to go to university I began to search for community at school, in Toronto. I found it in a few places.
On campus, my spiritual home was the Catholic chaplaincy. Served by two priests and staffed with student leaders, the CCY community provided me with challenging theological discussion, social life and support to grow in my walk with the Lord. I met vibrant, engaged Christians who were eager to create community, with many commuter and dorm students spending their breaks between classes, mealtimes and evenings at the chaplaincy. Often, a group of us could be found waiting outside the doors early in the morning, before the staff arrived, or we would carry on together somewhere else on campus after the staff left for the night.
Off campus, I began attending a Presbyterian church in downtown Toronto, and in my third year I moved into a house on the church property that was set up as apartments for students. Part of the ministry of the house was to provide a place for young adult ministries to grow and for three years I lived in a house that was constantly full of people – roommates, guests, small groups and Bible studies, prayer gatherings, open invitation meals. Some friends and I began inviting a few friends at a time to come for dessert after the evening service each week, as a way to get to know some of the people in the large congregation. Over the summer, our gatherings grew from five or six to ten, a dozen, twenty people jammed into our small lounge and kitchen and finally spilled out the kitchen door, down the porch steps and into the church parking lot where we began to bring out chairs from the church hall and set up tables for all the food needed to feed crowds of fifty or so.
There are so many reasons communities are formed.
Once upon a time, community was defined by where you lived. With limited mobility, people were raised in the communities that they settled in and raised their children in. Moving somewhere new meant that you were the outsider for the next twenty to fifty years! Now, places like that are fewer and far between. Increased urbanization, mobility, and globalization all mean that people move far more frequently. We are less likely to know our neighbours. Our physical, next-door-neighbours are less likely to attend the same church, have kids in the same school, or socialize at the same events. These days, community requires intentionality. If we liked we could sit at home and never see another soul: work from home, take courses from home, order food online, order EVERYTHING online (I love online shopping!); the convenience of the Internet means we can isolate ourselves and never face the challenges of community.
The intentionality behind community in the General Church is one of my favourite things about it. The movement to create intentional communities, where members live together, educate their children together, socialize together and worship together is something I treasure, and something I think that the Lord calls us to.
I have experienced the incredible blessings of community in the last few years. Coleman and I have faced some pretty tough challenges since we were married, but the communities in Dawson Creek, Westville, Bryn Athyn and around the world have carried us through, supporting us practically and prayerfully as we have navigated difficult pregnancies, life-threatening medical complications, international moves, sick and hospitalized babies and now cancer. We have stepped into the communities we have found ourselves in with intention and have been received intentionally in return, welcomed, supported, carried and loved.
Community is not easy – it’s hard work! Imagine yourself in that first community of disciples called by the Lord: fisherman, tax collectors, zealots. Some of these men were politically, ideologically and theologically diametrically opposed. But the Lord called them all, and called them to work together. In the communities we are a part of we are not identical, we do not always agree on everything. We are diverse, and that is a beautiful strength as well as a challenge. But the Lord calls us all to love our neighbour, to wash their feet, to feed His sheep, and to live in community.
What do you value about the communities you are a part of? What are you lacking in community? What’s one way you can intentionally seek to build community this week?