When I moved to London, Ont. I was immediately struck by the community spirit here, something I’ve rarely experienced in much larger cities. Almost everyone walking by on the street nods and says hello, acknowledging your presence. Drivers politely allow you to turn into the stream of traffic without aggression. You are acknowledged as a participant in the community, respected and cared about. I realize this spirit exists in many smaller communities—and I think we should treasure it as an outward sign of the threads of connection we experience as human beings in a shared time and space.
Maybe it is because I moved frequently as a child due to the nature of my father’s work and often had to build relationships in new communities and schools; maybe it is because as an adult I have seen the growth of a cocooning, individualistic spirit that denies our need for others, especially if they are different; whatever the reason, I know my heart yearns for community—for relationships in which respect, support, companionship and care are freely offered to all.
That is the kind of community that Jesus created with the disciples, taught to the crowds, and demonstrated by his words and actions. It is the kind of community that I have found among God’s people—the kind that cares when you are missing from worship; that cuts your lawn when you are on vacation; that listens deeply when you are in pain; that visits with flowers, casseroles or soup when you are sick; that together reaches out into the wider world to challenge wrongs, to pick up garbage, to offer meals, to welcome strangers, to protest injustice—to advocate for the well-being of all people.
Community is not always there in the church. It may be squashed by egos needing power; challenges too big for the capacity of the people; and human weakness. But it is still what I believe holds the greatest promise for human flourishing as God intended. We were created for community with one another and all creation (Genesis 1 and 2).
The world around us is in pain—physical, mental and spiritual. Creation is groaning from climate change. People are fleeing natural disasters and human conflicts. The polarization of political views cements hatred of the other side. Global economic turbulence affects all of us, sometimes disastrously. Suicide rates are concerningly high, especially among young people in Indigenous communities.
One human response to threats like these is protection of the self alone. But the gospel calls us to find ourselves by losing ourselves in love and service of others—in community. For “it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned and in dying that we are born to eternal life.” (Prayer of St. Francis). May our constant prayer and commitment be that of building Jesus’ kind of community through respect and love of neighbour as self. g