BUILDING COMMUNITY

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—sorry, wrong beginning.  Actually, a long time ago in another country, I was a very young teacher in a Kenyan school for training pastors.  I was working in another language which I had recently learned, sort of.  I knew that the very best way to learn any language was to use it so one of the things I did was to leave for class early, find a group of students or school staff and talk with them.  We would greet each other, laugh a bit and I would get a chance to speak and hear the language.

After a few months, I got involved in writing a course book for something, a project that took a lot of time since I was writing it in Kiswahili, which took a lot more time and effort.  That project meant that most days, I showed up for class with just enough time to spread out my teaching material and find the chalk before it was time for the opening prayer.

Then, one day, I was tired and wasn’t writing and went to class early again.  A group of more senior students sitting on the shade called me over and proceeded to scold me for not having been around to talk with them for a while.  They were very serious about the scolding–this was a group of older students whose age allowed them to scold even the teacher, even a western teacher.  They let me know that they weren’t angry–they were hurt because I was ignoring them.  My pre-class visits to improve my language were important to the students–we were building a community that was important to them.  There was only one response I could make–I apologized and promised that I would no longer neglect them.

Community is sometimes a difficult concept to understand and one that many people struggle to build.  But in the end, community is people who talk to each other and who enjoy talking to each other.  In our developing student/teacher community back then, both the students and I were talking to each other.  Sometimes, we talked about the weather; sometimes, we talked about class; sometimes, we talked about our different cultures–but always, we were talking to and with each other and in the process, developing a strong and deep relationship.  What I started as a way of improving my language skills had actually become an example of Christian community building.

And since our Christian faith is at its foundation a community based faith, we believers need opportunity to talk together.  Unfortunately, many times when we are together, we don’t really have opportunity to talk together.  We are always doing something else.  We worship together–and although the leadership gets to talk, the community isn’t really talking together.  We have meetings together–but since the meeting has a topic and a focus and a time limit to accomplish its goal, we sort of push social conversation into the background.  We have Bible study and prayer times but again, the focus is on something specific and so we squeeze conversation into the time before and time after.

The result of this lack of opportunity to just talk together is a weaker church–and a weaker faith for those who are part of the church.  We are weaker because we haven’t had the time we need to just talk to each other about the weather, the new car or baby, who is building the new house up the street, how the arthritis is coming, how the kids are doing and all the rest.  This lack of conversation impeded the growth of community.

Sometimes, I think we get the idea that talking about the weather is a waste of time–we have more important things to do.  But talking together, even about the weather, is part of building community.  My experience is that people need to talk about the weather a lot before they will talk about their depression and the need for prayer dealing with their depression.  They need to talk about the new car models comfortably before they will talk about needing help to deal with their fears about their illness.  Like my students long ago, people need to talk and listen so they can develop the kind of caring community that Christianity is supposed to feature.

May the peace of God be with you.

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