I was speaking with my younger brother yesterday - we chat quite a bit over the phone. We live fifty miles apart and both work from home. We are both interested in technology and dogs. He does some casual social care work. Having been a social worker and manager some years ago I can offer a bit of support and advice. So we have much in common and are both chatters.
He was talking about his views on life and about ethical living. I said that that what he was saying sounded very Unitarian (should the adjective have a capital letter?). He then asked a few questions about whether we prayed at our chapel and whether we got down on our knees. He then asked, but why do you need to join a group to do this? Which is a very good question and I guess one that some of us ask ourselves quite frequently. It's not as if I'm short of friends - I don't get to see my non-Unitarian friends enough. It's not that I can't have interesting debates with friends, real and virtual. It's not as if I can't find spiritual stimulation from books and from the Internet. But these are relationships which have a simplicity.
Once more than three or four people decide to become something other than just a group of friends then that something takes on an identity which is bigger than the sum of the parts. It is this thing which we (locally) call community. We create something which helps us to create our spiritual and ethical selves. It is the power of the group which we believe in. However I have been to some congregations which do not have so much of a community feel. There is sometimes a sub-set of people who feel deeply connected, who feel part of a community, and others who only come to be a member of a congregation.
Can we develop our congregations to become communities? Do people want that? It does demand quite an investment, not just in time but also in emotional energy and courage. We are opening ourselves up. To date our congregational assessment process has not recognised this as a key element for some local communities. And if it isn't recognised then perhaps it isn't promoted or even appreciated that this is one choice.
I return to my brother's question - why do I belong to a faith community? Because this way of being reflects my take on life - that to get the best out of life demands that we put the best into it. Spirituality is not an add-on, it is integral to the holistic view of human existence and as such the whole human has to be present for our own spirituality to develop. We can challenge ourselves from the comfort of our own homes or even free-falling in the sky. But the challenge that is deepening human relationships with people, some of whom we perhaps would not choose to be friends with, has a different feel.
It is here that the word faith becomes so important. This is our faith in the goodness of humanity and the faith that others can provide us with much more than we alone can. I searched long and hard for a spiritual community, feeling incomplete exploring spirituality outside of a faith community. Every day I am grateful that I have found a community of similar minds who are committed to and enthusiastic in developing something which is bigger than us all. It isn't always easy but it is always satisfying.