I experienced community when the clothing closet was open on Tuesday night. I'll explain in a minute....
If the sole purpose, or the primary purpose, of a church is to preserve or save itself, it will not be fully alive. Further, if it is absorbed in seeking to build community, the irony is that it will not have community at a deeper level. It's one of those Kingdom "reversals."
Two things I read early this morning stated this very thing. Frederick Buechner explains it this way, "To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only journeying for the world's sake- even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death- that little by little we start to come alive" (p. 22, Listening to Your Life).
The community-building piece came in a note by Henri Nouwen about caring together for others in his meditation on dying and caring in Our Greatest Gift, "I have always been impressed with the thought that people are only ready to commit themselves to each other when they no longer focus on each other but rather focus together on the larger world beyond themselves." (p. 64)
I hear the longing for community continually. It is something that is important for our community- our church- The Bridge. To love, know and be known, laugh, build relationships. We were not meant to walk through life in the type of individualism that has been prominent in much of Western culture.
So, saying this on the positive side of the equation: when we see the world beyond ourselves, when we engage together for the world's sake, and when we care together for others, especially the poor and marginalized, community is built at new levels. We are more fully alive!
I can point to that very thing on Tuesday night. There are all kinds of stories out there that would tell a similar story, but here is a recent one. Simple. Nothing fancy....
Tuesday nights: our church is staffing a clothing closet on Tuesday nights, and we are in the process of organizing and expanding this service. There's a warm meal each Tuesday night for 75-100 homeless, or near homeless, folks at the church building we rent, and then a clothing closet is open after the meal for about an hour. Six of us were there this past week to not only help find a pair of jeans, coat, socks, underwear, soap, razor, or other items for those lining up in the basement. But, we also chat and joke with, listen to and begin to learn the names of the "regulars."
It's dangerous to try and speak for others, but I'll risk it. I think the six of us felt a bit more "alive" that night chatting with someone who needs a tube of toothpaste. Some of our own personal struggles might be put into perspective. Our world gets expanded another notch. We move a tiny step further away from the illusion that the world is about "me."
And, community was being built, and it was from the very act of caring about others, and engaging in the world beyond ourselves. Laughing with George and his puns. Knowing that the same older guy always asks for a bar of soap "because I don't want to be stinky!" Getting in on two guys ribbing each other. Hearing a slice of the stories (each one of our stories matter!) of those who come each week.
Another layer of community was built on Tuesday night as a result of caring together, for the world's sake.
Funny, and fun, how that works.