Is community a safety net you hope is there when you need it?
There are times we really need others’ support. Being at home with 3 young children taught me this.
I have never so actively sought company as I did in those years. I needed the emotional and practical
help of being with others who had this, and sometimes only this, in common. Largely sleep deprived,
often anxious, yet mostly hopeful, I found a group of local parents and together we learnt how to be
each other’s safety net.
This week, I heard that community is more like a tightrope than a safety net. Not just there for the
tough times, being in community is the only way to authentically move through life. Challenging and
rarely comfortable, community knocks the edges off our pride and self-centredness. It’s a tightrope
walk.
A recent Guardian series on ‘Live Better’ focussed on the idea, ‘Get Involved’.
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/25/eight-reasons- people-do- not-involved-
community
Seeking a way to ‘Do Something’ about climate change and resource shortages the author
approached Dr David Fleming, who had invented a clever mechanism to incentivise individuals – and
entire nations – to save energy. What, in his opinion, was the most important thing anybody could
do to tackle these threats? “Join the local choir,” he said. At first the author found his answer
annoying. Was he being cute? Not at all. The most important thing, when trying to Do Something,
the late Dr Fleming explained, was to build a sense of community. Community makes bigger changes
possible.
At Royal Docks Church we have been leaning into community. It goes against the grain. We have had
to be quite intentional about it. Sometimes through necessity, increasingly through choice, many of
us share accommodation. We share meals when we meet midweek. When a new baby arrives we
organise two weeks of evening meals. We do life together. It’s challenging.
The American writer and activist Parker Palmer was honest about this. After a year of living in one
particular community, he came up with this definition: “Community is the place where the person
you least want to live with always lives.” A year later, he added: “When that person moves away,
someone else arises immediately to take his or her place.” Yet Parker remained staunchly committed
to community. We rarely stumble upon healthy communities – they are made through our work and
commitment – lots of ‘bearing with one another’, ‘learning to live at peace with one another’ and
‘forgiving one another’, as St Paul said.
So are you hoping for a safety net, or walking forward on the tightrope?