07 October 2013

Can one create community?

As part of an intentional community, it feels that I should be more of an expert on what community is. Yet, when I came, the community had already existed for 50 years. Community was thus a reality when I arrived and not something that I helped create. At the same time, I am part of the community now, and my participation shapes the experience of community. A phrase I learned in my first month here describes this well: Community is different because you are here.

I don't know if one can actually create community, despite the best efforts of many church leaders, student organisations, and family members. One can certainly harm community: gossip, lying, negativity all damage the trust, safety, peace, and joy that are a part of being a community with each other. Yet, can one actually create community? Or is it rather that one can merely make room for community to happen? 

A shared space, a listening ear, laughter and fun, rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn, shared meals and worship - all of these are some of the ingredients for allowing community to happen. And there is hard work: fighting against the tendency to get caught up in our own worlds and with our own concerns. And it's hard to make space for people as they really are, especially those who are rather different. But at the same time, community doesn't need programs or an agenda. One of the greatest lessons I have learned about living in intentional community is how much sharing space and meals (and dishes) helps with growing to appreciate others and making room thus for a community to develop.

So one can make space for others, develop opportunities, and pray. By the grace of God, a sense of community will flourish. Chances are, however, that this community will not be exactly what we'd expected. How can it? Community is different with each person who is part of it. Shouldn't community be as full of surprises as the God who made all of these strange and unique people who are part of it?

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