Psalms 133:1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
Romans 12:9-10 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Hebrews 13:2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
One of the Church’s most significant contributions to the world is in the building of genuine community. It is also an often-overlooked ministry, or at least, one frequently taken for granted as an ancillary byproduct of everything else we do. In the year 2000, Robert Putnam, Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, published his most noteworthy text, Bowling Alone; The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam attempted to demonstrate how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures, that we had experienced a decline in Social Capital over the previous 25 years. Certainly the need for real community is as great, if not greater, than it was at that moment.
In a fairly recent Newsweek article on the Ex-Ex-Gay movement (in which our friend Darlene Bogle is quoted extensively) John Paulk, one of the subjects of the article, is quoted as saying; “I went to a gay bar—not looking for sex, which is what people thought—but because I was missing my community. I was looking to sit in a place with people I felt comfortable with, and that was other gay people.” I think we can all understand that impulse, to want to gather with those like us, those with whom we share much in common. Church communities can offer a degree of that, surely, but there is more to it than the comfort of familiarity.
Churches can often be places where the impulse toward community is tempered, enriched, and grounded in the tradition of forgiveness and grace. Grounded, in other words, in the necessity of Love. To take the spiritual journey seriously enough to expect to get something from it requires the potential capitulation to the prospect of encountering people who are not like-minded. The Church is a place where we are stuck with each other, and thank God for that. It doesn’t mean that we don’t get mad, that we aren’t sometimes hurt, that we won’t go white with rage. It does mean that we seek a path through the anger, that we negotiate our anxieties, that we examine our own hearts and submit them to the possibilities of forgiveness and grace.
Genuine community develops from the desire know and be known, to accept and be accepted. In on-line associations we are always able to “unfriend” others at the first sign of trouble, but where a Church community seeks authentic Love, we will learn to live with those who are quite different from ourselves, to enlarge our spirits by making room for them in our hearts. If there is a gift the Church can continue to give the world it is this, the insistence on a Love that is strengthened by reconciliation, and hospitality for the other.
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
“Religion creates community, community creates altruism and altruism turns us away from self and towards the common good… There is something about the tenor of relationships within a religious community that makes it the best tutorial in citizenship and good neighborliness.”