What Makes for a Strong Community?

I came across a post that I wrote on my other blog, which is about my work at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, where I discuss the idea of a community. I wanted share it with y’all because it is definitely applicable to what we’re doing in the Blackburn House. It was also very interesting to read what I thought of community as it applies to a campus ministry and see how it is not much different when applied to intentional living communities.

“This has been a topic much debated in my mind recently; there seem to be so many different definitions of and approaches to community that when we all get in the same place and try to build one we often find ourselves at a crossroads. Some people think of community and see a group of people that agree on everything, others see community as a challenging commitment, still others see community as just a place where people live and sometimes talk to each other. Some of the definitions of community on dictionary.com are:

1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the ): the business community; the community of scholars.
4. Ecclesiastical . a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
As I look at all of these definitions, I see parts of each that point toward the kind of community that I long for. But the more I invest in the community of Wesley, the more I realize that the community that I want is not necessarily the community that others want. Every day includes a humbling moment that reminds me of that fact–it is not all about me. This is the beauty of a community: it will never be exactly what we want, if that were the case it would not be a community but a one-person show. There is an amazing balance of give-and-take, push-and-pull, that builds a community that no one person has envisioned. The hard part for me is learning where to push the aspects of community that I feel strongly about and where to allow for others’ passions to grow and let mine take a back seat. I think the only answer or solution we can turn to is communication.
Recently at Wesley we have had a lot of difficult conversations between people of all different opinions, and this can be incredibly scary. We all want to have a community that is loving and happy and on the same page; but I’m not convinced that this is possible. The natural reaction to hard conversations is the want to avoid them and put on a facade of agreement and acceptance when in reality it is an avoidance. This avoidance, I believe, will actually hinder us from going deeper and getting to know who each other truly are, the good and the bad. What is the point of a community if we must hide parts of ourselves in fear of losing acceptance or trust? In doing so we are not only hindering our own ability to be self-aware and share who we are truly and fully, but we are hindering others’ ability to learn to love through it all. There is nothing more challenging than seeing each others’ faults along with seeing each others’ gifts and choosing to see the beauty throughout, but I can’t imagine any other community worth investing in.
This is exactly the reason that Wesley has been and continues to be a community that I am drawn to. There are so many people that believe so many different things so strongly, and yet we can still come together and worship once a week. Now, that is not to say it is easy to come together all the time. We have had times where we were not unified, where there was hurt and pain between people, and where we questioned if we could stay; but this only adds to the beauty. We have also had times where we felt unified even in our differences and the mission of love in each of us was strong enough to bring us above it. These are the times that keep me encouraged and remind me why I am working at Wesley. Of all of the Christian communities I have witnessed and been a part of, this is one that I see a very real potential to be a true, loving and challenging community. This gives me hope. We are only young adults, and we are learning how to be fully ourselves, as we were created with passions, opinions, beliefs, and thoughts. I believe that this is one of the most valuable things we can learn, and the harder it gets, the closer to the truth we get. Unity does not mean conformity; we were not created the same and to avoid our differences is to ignore and belittle our genuine selves and the God that created us to be so. Unity includes recognizing that we are all human while simultaneously honoring the fact that we all have divinity within us, and choosing to use our differences and similarities to love the world and each other. As lofty and idealistic as this seems, it is the thing we must cling to and hope for as we live our daily lives if we hope to make a real difference. And I believe we can make a larger difference together than any of us can imagine.”
Community is hard, we are so trained to be individualistic and self-centered that it goes against every fiber of our being to live so entrenched in each others’ lives. But it is this fact exactly that makes me think that living this way is good and right. Nothing truly fulfilling is easy, if it were I don’t think we’d learn very much from it. As it gets harder and we continue to stick with it, it gets more honest, and if we’re striving for honestly in relationships and in life then I think we’re doing alright.
—Lindsay R.

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