by Rev. Michael Brazelle, Mowrystown PC
The first time I gave community any serious thought was after I attended a little workshop on small groups. In this small group experiment, we got a taste of what it’s like to dive deeply into respectful relationship with strangers. Looking back on this I can see that we were doing the actual work of peacemaking.
Just by answering some seemingly innocuous questions, I revealed a little more about myself than I usually do. Then I think we studied some questions about a passage of scripture and finally shared what we thought. This taught me that the more I get to know someone the more I understand why they think the way they do. As the study guide walked us through what it called a scale of self-disclosure, we got to experience what it feels like to build trust.
These days, if we don’t encourage that mutual trust, there is no one else who will. The problem is that there’s just no money in this kind of work, and media political pundits make a lot of money working against mutual trust and respect. The money is there for the taking because everybody has a little fight in them, and it can be exciting to stir that up, but it is a negative excitement, and it does not stir up in us the positive excitement of simply being fully alive.
Small group ministry is painstaking work, but it’s worth it because it leaves people feeling like they are worth getting to know and knowing for sure that others are worth getting to know. It builds confidence in us as human beings, confidence that we can handle disagreements, and hold onto our values, and hold on to our worth as individuals.
I guess a lot a people in church think they already know one another, but the questions I get as a pastor about other members, and the things I hear some people in church wonder aloud about other members 0tells me otherwise. The fact is we don’t know one another, so is it any wonder that we don’t trust and grow to love one another?
I Peter 1:22 says, “You obeyed the truth, and your souls were made pure. Now you sincerely love each other. But you must keep on loving with all your heart.” Try to imagine how much energy that takes. Now try to imagine the things that sap that energy. People worry a lot these days about their church dying. But we never have to worry about that so long as we keep on loving with all our heart. To focus on a church’s survival is to take our focus away from loving with all our heart.
I think the church forgets what people need and want most—community. We can make community a complex concept, and to be sure, whole books have been written on it, but it is really not so much complicated as it is just plain hard work. To build beloved community we have to risk letting ourselves be known. We have to be willing to have the hard conversations we need to have after our feelings have been hurt as Jesus instructs us to in Matthew 18:15-20.
The word community is overused, and little understood these days. But I have seen it and felt it, so I know from experience that it can be done. We can make it happen. Yes, “make it happen” because peace doesn’t just happen anymore than war just happens.