How Do We Form Community?

by Christine Sine
Garden day at the Mustard Seed House

Garden day at the Mustard Seed House

Friday and Saturday were community garden days at the Mustard Seed House. Afterwards I reflected on what wonderful times of fellowship and fun these were. It started me thinking again about the importance of community and how we form it.

Gardening and hospitality, I thought. These are two of the most important places for forming community. Other shared activities like shared worship practices and shared ministry are also important for forming community, but sometimes they create rather than break barriers. And the best worship and ministry are deeply enriched by the sharing of food and its production. The phenomenal growth of the community garden movement is a good example of this.

In the creation story we find God forming a community around gardening too. It is God who plants the garden of Eden and asks human kind to tend it. And it is God we hear walking in that garden in the cool of the evening, not just enjoying what has been planted but looking for Adam and Eve so that they can enjoy it together.

In gospels we are introduced to the risen Christ as the gardener of the new creation. To be part of God’s new creation we once more walk in fellowship with God and with each other, fully mindful once more of our call to tend God’s garden and make it flourish.

Gardening breaks down barriers that can destroy community. Barriers of race, social strata, and age. In the garden we are all one. We wear our oldest clothes, so no one can tell the rich from the poor. We listen to the wisdom of grandparents who had their hands in the dirt long before we were born. And we rub shoulders with people of every tribe and nation because to get the big jobs done we need every will hand and every able body.

Hospitality at the Mustard Seed House

Hospitality at the Mustard Seed House

The other place most important community forming practice is hospitality and the sharing of food together. In the gospels we find Christ constantly sitting down to table to enjoy community around hospitality and food. Even after the resurrection, hospitality plays an important part in his interactions with the disciples. One of my favourite bible stories is the resurrected Jesus making breakfast for friends. (John 21:9)

Like gardening, the sharing of food can break down barriers as we see profoundly portrayed in the wonderful film Barbette’s Feast.

It is no wonder that the central sacrament of our faith is the breaking of bread and wine, something that was once more than the symbolic sharing of a rice wafer and a sip of wine or grape juice. The last supper must have looked a little more like what Sara Miles does in her book Take This Bread. The bread and wine at communion becomes tons of groceries, piled on the church’s altar to be given away and in the pages of her book we find the most unlikely people sitting down to dinner together – church ladies, bishops, schizophrenic street people, thieves and millionaires.

What do you think? Where do you find community? What for you are the most community enhancing activities?


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kathryn January 30, 2012 - 6:58 pm

this is a wonderful post. I’ve never thought of the garden and gardening in such a way. Your images are filled with truth. Thank you. I love your list of prayer tools on sojourners.
Peace to you in your gardens!

Jeri Bidinger January 30, 2012 - 11:29 pm

I don’t garden, though we have recently taken up residence in a Turkish village where home food production forms the fabric of life. Yesterday my neighbor found me to show me how they are making olive oil from olives collected from my trees and hers. As I left, her rooster attacked me when I got too close to the hen-house to photograph their small son. Yes, much community around the sharing of what we grow (my lemon tree is also an amazing producer and her husband showed me a pine-nut sapling he prepares for my garden) and the tending of her chickens and another neighbor’s cow. And then there is my bread-baking.

The stuff of hospitality, though, resonates very deeply. In this place of very few believers (I was the only one last Sunday), we share the Lord’s table every Sunday night and it IS a meal where we consciously celebrate Christ’s body and blood in the elements as we share and pray together. Whether we are two or six, whether we speak a common language or not, these times are rich fellowship.

Beyond food, in all its beauty and simple goodness, the offer of a safe place, of thoughtful converse, of space apart from life’s battering and stresses, where one can listen and be listened to, and play a bit–joy that leads to worship.


Christine Sine January 31, 2012 - 8:06 am

Jeri, a beautiful story thank you so much for sharing this.

Jeri Bidinger January 31, 2012 - 9:44 am

Fun to see that you re-posted it, Christine!

pxinick February 8, 2012 - 4:45 am

So much of what you say is true here our some of our attempts:
God bless

Christine Sine February 8, 2012 - 8:17 am

Thank you for making me aware of these beautiful reflections.

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