The Beloved Community

by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

In a recent meeting of some of the Presbytery leadership, as we started to dream about what God wants for us this year, we kept coming to the phrase “Beloved Community”. Over and over. And so it became our theme for the Presbytery for 2022.

You’ll start to see it in many places – our committees, deliberations, musings, planning.  Our blogs this year will focus on the concept of us as a Beloved Community, in all the ways this is seen and understood – a Beloved Community of believers, knit together by faith and place and time here in greater Cincinnati; a Beloved Community of God in unity blessed by His grace and mercy; a Beloved Community working together for the peace and reconciliation of the world – using our love, energy, intelligence and imagination.

We pray this season nurtures us into being a truly Beloved Community within our congregations and across the Presbytery.  That is our goal.  And you are invited into that conversation (submit a blog to us)!

Henri Nouwen, a treasured catholic teacher, activist and pastor, once described beloved community as “the place where the person you least want to live with always lives… That person is always in your community somewhere; in the eyes of others, you might be that person.”

Of course we know not to expect perfection from the communities we join, sometimes especially our church community, or from individual others. Or from ourselves. Or we should – although we don’t always act that way.

Nouwen notes that beloved community requires us to believe that others are worth our effort, and that we will be worth the effort in the eyes of others.  That kind of hopefulness and generosity – towards others or to ourselves – is not easy.  We frail, feeble, fragile, fearful humans tend to run away from that kind of community, not just because it is hard to build, but also because we don’t see that what we hold together is bigger than anything we falsely think divides us.

The work of Beloved Community is bigger than we imagine. It’s not just about building a better world; it’s also about building up each other’s faith, and our trust in each other. It’s about sharing big goals, working together to achieve them; the desire to be in a community that is peaceful, happy, and safe – for us and for our dreams.  Conflict will exist, but in a Beloved Community it is resolved peacefully, nonviolently, and without lingering hostility, ill will, or resentment.  In a Beloved Community, we appreciate and recognize the inherent worth and value of all people, and of all life.  We are a Beloved Community when we are motivated by kindness, compassion, and love – just as we were taught by Jesus. We lift each other up. And so the means we use to navigate and create change are just as kind and compassionate as the ends we seek: carrying forward the light and love of our Lord Jesus the Christ toward a place of peace and reconciliation.

Not only can we create the Beloved Community here, but we can count on it.  We can create a Beloved Community that heals the division between us, and also the doubt within us.

When we act as a truly connectional – dare I say connected? – church, the Beloved Community is what we become, and how we show up to the people around us. A Beloved Community treats everyone with courtesy, compassion, and kindness.  It eschews competitiveness and one-way thinking.  It becomes the visible, tangible, loving, beating heart of a living God to the people we worship with as well as the people we meet randomly on the street.

We can all do the inner work necessary to become members of a Beloved Community by refining our minds and hearts to let go of the greed, prejudice, blame, and falsehood that reside there. Only then can infinite and all-inclusive kindness, compassion, and goodwill – the Light of our Lord – shine through. And then let’s work together.

Presbytery of Cincinnati, I wish every single one of you boundless love, peace, health, joy, and success in 2022 as we work together to create the Beloved Community of the Presbytery of Cincinnati, and a more peaceful, just and loving world.