What creates community in a congregation? What is it that enables our relationship with the person who always sits two rows up in front of us to go from simply a nameless person with whom we share the Peace in worship to the person we share the joys and concerns of our daily lives outside of worship and during the week and they share theirs? How and when is that connection made?
On this “travel” portion of my sabbatical I’ve had the joy of reconnecting with people from three of my previous calls. I played a round of golf with a former youth advisor from my second call and shared the joys and challenges of not only ministry but our lives as well. In Montana I stayed with not only our former neighbor in my first call, but a dear friend who was recently widowed. It was as if I still lived across the street and we had just had coffee the day before. We grieved together. We laughed together. We shared life and faith together. I wasn’t a former pastor. I was his friend. And just this last weekend I had the joy of staying with a family for whom I feel more like a brother or cousin than their parent’s and grandparent’s intern and pastor. Even though we hadn’t seen each other in years, it didn’t take long until our conversation went deeper than Colorado weather and catching up with their work and the girls’ school activities. It’s like you are with family who ask and say the hard questions and comments that touch you deep in your soul. They make a difference in my life, as I hope I do in theirs.
How does that happen? I think it begins first and foremost with being there in the tough times of our lives. You don’t have to say anything. Sometimes simply being there, being a physical presence of love and support makes all the difference in the world and speaks more deeply than what we might try to say in words. Isn’t that what we hope the Christian community of our local congregation will be for us and we for them? To be that physical presence of the love, peace, hope, and joy of God during the hills and valleys of our lives? Prayer is essential. Presence builds community. And that begins with sharing our name and asking them theirs when we share the peace. It continues over coffee during a time of fellowship or sharing in an event or project together. It’s solidified when we risk sharing our lives with theirs outside the walls of the church building even more than within. And it all begins with, “Hello, my name is…” That’s how we create community in our congregations. Thanks be to God!