Over the last couple of weeks I have found myself thinking a lot about what it means to build community, which is the theme of our annual Celtic retreat this year. It also the theme of our next gathering here at the Mustard Seed House The Art of Being in Community
How do we build community with people who are spread out around the globe without expending vast amounts of money to bring us all together in one place? Most of us are depending more and more on the internet & cell phones to help build community in this kind of context. Facebook, webinars, podcasts and text messaging all give us a sense of connectedness in a scattered and sometimes disconnected worldwide community. But does this really build community or does it just give us a false sense of belonging? To be honest I am not sure.
I now have almost 1700 “friends” on facebook, obviously many of whom I do not know well, some of whom I don’t know at all. It seems to me that calling these people friends is a misnomer that I struggle with because in some ways it degrades the real meaning of friendship and the purpose of community. At another level I love the kind of interaction it has opened up for me with people I may never otherwise have connected to. Whenever Tom and I travel we meet people who are my facebook friends and that does provide an opportunity to deepen relationship and build community at a deeper level.
However if this is the only type of community we are involved in I think that there is something lacking. Nothing builds community like face to face meetings – be it for a casual cup of coffee, a celebrative meal or even a shared work task.
Friday we held our monthly garden day at the Mustard Seed House trying to get the planting, weeding and maintenance up to day. Ironically, because of the number of garden seminars I have facilitated this year our own garden has been somewhat neglected. Not that this has stopped the growth. In fact we have the most magnificent broccoli and cauliflowers about to be harvested that i have ever seen.
Garden days I am discovering are a wonderful way to build community. Not just those from the Mustard Seed House participated but also several others who have attended seminars in the last couple of months. This is a great way to get to know people in the midst of our work. We covered almost 600 apples with little stocking feet (what one of our community has nicknamed apple condoms) to keep out the apple maggots and also accomplished a huge amount of weeding. It was also a great opportunity to learn from each other about the garden techniques we have discovered that work best here in Seattle. As one person commented – things go better with friends.
Part of what I realize in the midst of this is that building community is something that should happen in all the everyday interactions of our lives. Sharing life together is meant to be at the centre of our faith. What we need to do is provide both the opportunities and places for people to gather and build community. And these do not need to be formal gatherings. In fact simple community activities like the garden day we just spent together are probably better for building community than a formal workshop or conference.
If as Howard Snyder says: Jesus spent more time forming community than he did healing the sick and preaching the good news than this is something that we need to take very seriously too. So what are the most effective ways you have found to build community?