Questions on My Mind
As I settle into my new role as a minister of this congregation, my mind turns a lot to the notion of “community”. What does it mean for us to be a community? Why do we gather weekly and sometimes more? What are we trying to achieve?
Being a minister gives me a whole different perspective. I scan my mind across everyone in the congregation and I’m startled by the disparate lives we all lead. That fact leads me to the questions stated above.
Changes in Community
In pre-modern times, community was just a given: it was the physical place you lived. You lived in a town, village or clan, and the people in that physical locale was your community. Life took place in and revolved around that community. But modern life has completely upended that model of communal life. I look around at our community of St. Timothy, and this is so evident. We live in physically very disparate places: Richmond Hill, Etobicoke, North York, Vaughan, etc. Not only physical: we are so different in so many ways. We all have different jobs at different places, are in different stages of life, are of different ages and thus life issues, we have different families and different friends in our personal lives outside of church.
What are we trying to do when we come together?
Challenges in Our Church
I think the current reality of our church is this: there are those who feel connected to this community from the history they have developed with this church. This history includes forging good friendships, having learned a different perspective on life from the church’s teachings, etc. But there are others who feel only marginally or peripherally connected with the community. It is a place they come once a week or less, for various kinds of reasons.
Jesus’ calling to his followers to come was this: “that they may all be one”. Christian life was to be a life in community. This is our calling. I believe this is our calling as followers of Christ, but also as human beings. We were created for, and wired for, life in community.
Jean Vanier says this: “A community is only a community when the majority of its members is making the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community’, when each person’s heart is opening to all the others, without any exception.”
But how challenging that is in our current context. In our own church, as mentioned, each of our lives are so individual – our jobs, social circles and homes are not connected with others in our church. Secondly, our lives are so busy: work, family, friends, play. By the end of the day or week, we are tapped out with not much left to give. Therefore, curling up with Netflix or YouTube is the easiest thing to do. Finally, we live in a world of overwhelming personal choice. Everything I do is up to me, and I can choose whatever I want in that moment, without having to think ahead. Choice supersedes commitment. But community takes commitment. Thus lies the great challenge of building genuine community.
Hope for Community
So is this whole enterprise futile? I believe not. If I believed that were the case, I might as well hang up my new ministerial robes right now. What I hope to do in the weeks and months to come is to reflect more deeply on what community really is, and to discern how we can continue to build up this community in a way that is a blessing to the people in it as well as those beyond it. For that, ultimately, is the calling of Christian community, to be completely one, “so that the world may know that [God] has sent [Jesus] and has loved them.” (John 17:23)
Invitation to Reflect
Here’s my plan and invitation to you: I will be reading through Jean Vanier’s book “Community and Growth: Our Pilgrimage Together”. (To learn more about who Jean Vanier is, click here.) My reflections over the next few weeks will derive in part from my readings through this book. I invite you to join in this reading journey with me. You can read along, and we can discuss or comment together on what we think.
Are you interested in this reading journey? Please fill in the form below to join. I’ll send links to those who expressed interest, and we can get started reading!
May God bless us in responding to this call to be a community.