This page is adapted from St. Paul’s 2014 Annual Report. Much of it was written on Martin Luther King Jr Day. Pushing my deadline but really an appropriate day – a day to remember King’s vision of the “beloved community.”
“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. … It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization”
Need for Community
Most of us have a very deep spiritual need to be part of something greater than ourselves. Community makes this possible. Unfortunately, in our society community can be hard to find. The focus is on the individual: I did it my way; pull yourself up by your bootstraps; the Marlboro Man following the American dream. This mantra feeds the cult of the individual while marginalizing community. [Community also is marginalized because often it’s a threat to the powerful – but that’s a whole other story.]
St. Paul’s community goal is to be a safe place, a place of healing, of prayer. Certainly it’s long been a place where you’re physically safe, where you won’t get hassled, where it’s safe to be yourself wherever you are on your life’s journey. It’s a place to find peace, it’s an example of the beloved community.
For someone on the edge it provides the support to keep going through very difficult times, to get through their day. That’s why we’re active members of the Windham Community Care Team. There also are very significant spiritual benefits for those of us who – at least at the moment – are not too close to the edge. We get to hang out with people marginalized by our culture – that’s what Jesus did! We get to know people we ordinarily wouldn’t have contact with, people we might have been uncomfortable with, maybe even afraid of. We get to know how difficult their life can be. We can walk down Walnut Street towards some people hanging out without getting the urge to cross the street.
Our Beloved Community
Looking back at the past year at St. Paul’s I see an evolutionary process of community building, a process based on our sometimes feeble attempts to understand where God’s love wants us to go. Beyond the food, the events, all the support activities, we’re also starting to develop a sense of the structure of our community. That structure is described by the graphic. Our beloved community is made up of three families. They are:
- Our traditional parish family: worship centered, essentially the people who go to church with some regularity.
- Our local family: the people with us on Sundays and/or Wednesdays; this ranges from people who just come in to get out of the weather and get some coffee to those more involved in the activities (eg making breakfast), and those that take more or less interest in spiritual aspects (eg communion, prayers, bible study).
- Our extended family: people who have moved away but maintain some connection; people who come occasionally; people who take part in some of our, or joint, events or projects; people who know enough about us to support us financially when asked, etc, etc.
The family circles have some overlap and the boundaries really are fuzzy. Certainly some of us are members of more than one family (I can think of Rev Jaci as being a member of all three), and some of us move from one family to another.
In our plans we need to be clear that the concept of extended family is very real and not just a marketing gimmick designed to improve fund raising results. As discussed above there are significant benefits that flow to all of us from a connection to St. Paul’s community. Developing that connection in an honest way will take considerable effort. We need to develop true community and avoid the “nice people coming to the ghetto to do good things for the poor” approach – the nice people need to be in community with the poor!
Building community means building involvement and and that requires communication. That’s especially true for our more distant extended family. A mailed, twice a year, progress report just is not enough. To make more regular contact and keep all of us in the loop we will be publishing an email newsletter. It’s not here at this writing but it’s not too early to sign up for a subscription.