So we started talking about how we in the church need to get beyond status quo, beyond business as usual. There is pretty much consensus across the board that the way we are doing things are just not working. But I am hopeful that there is a way forward. I don’t have all the answers but I would like to at least start a conversation about what that way forward might look like. So over the next little while I’m going to share some thoughts. First I want to talk about community.
Community is one of those buzzwords in church circles. Book, websites, conferences all proclaim the importance of community and offer advice on how to go about creating and building community. In our part of the church here in Newfoundland community has always been something that came relatively easy. Our faith communities were ready made for us and therefore required little thought or effort. Community centred on geography or where we lived, whether it was town or neighbourhood. Communities were also centred around denomination, in other words there were Anglican communities, and Roman Catholic communities, and United Church communities and so on and so on. This has changed. No longer are people connected or rooted to one place. People are much more mobile and where you live does not automatically determine where and if you will worship. Also people, especially younger Christians do not have the same denominational affiliations. Increasingly people choose their faith communities based on a sense of welcome, programming, worship styles, and theological bents, rather than on the denominational name on the church sign.
Add to this the fact that increasingly people are less connected with any faith community and its accompanying beliefs and practices and it is clear to see that community just ain’t what it used to be. Dare I even say we have a crisis? People just don’t feel they belong, can’t feel they belong. On the other hand people desperately want to belong to something, to find meaning, yet they cannot find what they need or want in church. What’s up with that?
I think it’s very important to remember what type of community we’re talking about here. The biblical concept of community is something that is God’s idea. One could say that God is community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that through baptism we get to participate in that community. Community is covenant. The Hebrew Scriptures use the word hesed to refer to God’s covenant love, faithfulness and loving kindness. God calls the Hebrew people, the early church, the church through the ages, and us into community. And it is faithfulness in Christ to God’s call through God’s Spirit that keeps us in community. So community is God ordained, Christ centred, and Spirit lead.
The tough question, though, is what does community look like? The simple answer is community will look different for different people in different places. Community is not living in isolation from each other or from the gospel. Community is not, cannot be limited to what happens in church on Sunday. It is a daily reality. This is a challenge in our fast paced society where forces are at work to keep us isolated from each other and to keep the gospel compartmentalized from our daily lives.
Faith communities need to begin with simple but fundamental questions: who are we? What are we supposed to be doing? The answers to those questions should, I hope have far reaching consequences for what type of communities are created. If the answer is bastions of faith in a world of faithlessness then I guess we’ll baton down the hatches and try to ride out the stormy seas of the 21st century world. But if we are a community centred on the resurrection of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, called to take part in God’s great restoration of humanity and creation, then that too will affect the communities we create. It will affect how we eat together, how we pray together, how we spend our money and time together. It will impact how we serve each other and those around us, the poor, the persecuted, the sick, dying, lonely, aged, and forgotten of our world. It will force us to reconsider, like Jesus often did, who is in and who is outside of our community. It will cause us to look at what we are doing now, to let die what needs to die, and build on what needs building.
Community is hard. It is at once our greatest need and our biggest fear. It means putting aside what I want and working towards what best suits the community. Community brings me face to face with my brokenness and selfishness. It reminds me that I cannot find my own way, only God’s way, which is found in community.
The great German theologian and social activist Dietrich Bonehoeffer said, “The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.” At the heart of community is love; love for God, love for brother and sister, love for neighbour, love for enemy, love for creation. Communities built on love, not clubs, or cliques, or committees, are what the world needs. Communities built on love are what God is calling us to be.