I was thinking whilst driving the car a few days ago that someone reading the posting about how strong communities are might reflect - but this sounds like a social group. So what differentiates a social group from a faith community. I have been musing on this in all the usual places - the bath, bed, the sofa and in the car. Must get out for a bit of fresh air!
I think that there are three major differences between my conception of an emerging and developing faith community and a social network and these differences are
(1) purpose and intent;
(2) the quality of relationship; and
(3) the emerging nature of the group as it opens itself up to new members.
I am now using the word 'emerging' which captures within it concepts of emergence and organic growth. Hold that thought - this will be the subject of another post.
So first - purpose and intent. Each of our communities has a purpose whether overt or covert: spoken or unspoken. For our local community it is being spoken as part of our principles - we are here to support each others' spiritual growth within a loving community. As we have not finished our conversations on this there is no definitive version at present. But this gives a flavour. Spirituality is the core of our purpose and our intent is to do this communally.
Second, we look at quality of relationships within our communities. This is not something that one person can magic but is a commitment from most, if not all, community members to work at the relationships within the community - making each link strong. This goes beyond friendship. It is not about only spending time with the people that you feel comfortable with, that you have things in common with or that you 'click' with. It is a commitment to see beyond ourselves - to cultivate connections with all community members. We can do this through many routes - spending time with each other, finding out what each other likes and dislikes, taking an interest in what the other is interested in, wishing in the depth of our heart for each person to live well, finding true and meaningful love for all within our communities. Of course if we can develop ourselves to be like this with those within our faith community then we will not be able to confine our loving to the space within our community's walls.
Our relationships also create the entity that is our community - the body, heart, mind and soul. It is where we attempt to lose our egos and just become ... become that which we are meant to be. Our communities are more than the sum of the parts because they are based on the 'spaces in-between' the parts - they are based on the relationships. I was listening to a TV programme about swing bands and someone was talking about the Duke Ellington Band and how they had been together for some thirty plus years and the person was describing the knowingness between musicians based on the years of playing together.
I was reminded of a time when a relative newcomer volunteered to co-ordinate a music hall night which involved getting tickets done, tickets sold, getting people to volunteer to participate (sing, play an instrument or read a poem), getting music sorted, getting a pianist, and overseeing everything else. Someone had the idea of a fish and chip supper which an old-timer helped with as he knew a local chippy and another newish person was on mushy pea duty. Our co-ordinator was very anxious as she had not experienced the meeting house community in action as a body - this is not to say that some very hard work and well thought out planning didn't occur - but it is to say that people worked as a self-organising group, bringing what they were to co-create a wonderful evening. Our co-ordinator was surprised and delighted at how the thing had come together. As with the Duke Ellington Band it does take time to create a knowing community.
And third - the emerging nature of the group as it opens itself up to new members. My view is that communities have to be comfortable and confident in themselves before they open themselves up to large numbers of new people. There may be people who find us and are keen to get involved - so we will be welcoming and invite people to join us - but we want our communities to be the best that they can be so that new people come, get involved and stay. At what point do we feel that we are ready for new people? I purposefully use the word 'feel' in this question because I think it is about feeling rather than thinking. I think that its when we start to feel that being a loving and caring community is coming naturally - that we are at ease with ourselves - that we can give our time and attention to new people because the community itself thrives without a lot of extra effort. It is when we are an attractive, enticing and warm place to be - where people can feel the joy as they walk through the door.
This can be difficult if there are only three people in a congregation but these things can be done - but before advertising what you are, become want you truly want to be.