Stud Muffin and I have been talking recently about community. What it is. How do you develop it? How do you find it? Can community be legislated? Or does it have to happen organically?
With social media, we see plenty of online communities forming around common interests and hobbies. But I’m talking about something deeper, the feeling that you’re my people and I’m yours.
When we moved to Southern California back in the mid-1980s, we found a church right away. We had friends in the area and they told us where they attended. We liked it and never visited anywhere else. It was a big church (still is), especially to two wide-eyed bumpkins transplanted from the sticks to the big city. But we felt at home right away.
Whenever we met anyone new at church, they always asked three questions.
- Are you in a Sunday School class?
- Are you in a small group?
- What’s your ministry?
There was a recognition that with a large church, being connected had to be intentional. Everyone was expected to answer those three questions.
- Yes! We’re in Bereans.
- Yes! We meet with several other couples regularly for Bible study and prayer.
- Uh … ministry?
That third one took a little longer, but we both found a niche. Even Stud Muffin whose church attendance in those days was sporadic, due to his work hours. I served in Mothers Class (the precursor to MOPS, back in the dark ages), Pioneer Girls, and as a substitute Sunday school teacher. Stud Muffin served as an usher.
The friends we made during those years are still our community. They’re the ones we call when life knocks us down.
Stud Muffin and I have talked about why those connections have lasted. We don’t really have an answer.
It could be the difference in Southern and Central California.
Southern California is full of people not from there, so they’re used to making friends and blooming where they’re planted. Central California has more people who grew up here and have family close by and have never needed to go looking for a friend.
Or it could be the season of life we were in then. There’s a shared history. We’ve known each other a long time now and we’ve seen our children grow up together.
But we have made good friends here, both in Central California and at a later stage in life, so neither of those theories seem to be valid. Although I found it telling that when life kicked us in the gut in early 2014, our first calls were to family, our Southern California community, and then to a few local friends. Only one of those locals was at our church. We did tell our table group in our Sunday school class, but not until Sunday. I only called one church friend when we were still trying to figure out what happened and what we were doing and what was going on.
I’m not angry or bitter (any more – I admit to some frustration when we were trying to find a new community when we first moved back to the Valley).
Our church is currently pushing involvement in small groups and connecting and community. It’s what I wanted for a long time.
I wonder if it’s because I’m simply tired from trying to build this on my own. When we first moved to the area, we assumed we’d gather a new community like the one we’d left. We invited people to parties, over for dinner or dessert. All invitations were met with varying amounts of coolness.
- Oh, we’d love to, but you guys live so far out. Why don’t we meet you at (INSERT RESTAURANT)?
- Oh … I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you … (INSERT CRICKETS).
I had one person tell me that while we were welcome to attend (INSERT CHURCH NAME), in their experience, people who lived as far out of town as we did didn’t stick, they got tired of driving and found another church closer to home. That was 23 years ago. We’re still there. And now we’re not the only people who make that drive. In fact, there’s some people who (gasp!) drive even longer to get there! Which is a testimony that it is a great church with solid teaching and good people. Even if it takes a while to feel part of things.
I also had one person (this was in the dark ages, before cell phones), who was putting together a phone tree, ask me if the person ahead of me on the tree could call me collect.
Yep. Way to make me feel welcome. I cried in the car on the way home from that meeting. BTW, that person moved away a few years later. She visits occasionally but I can’t bring myself to go say hi. Petty, I know. Welcome to my evil, petty heart. But stay away from my phone bill.
Even before we settled on a church, we tried to form community in our community. In SoCal, if I ran out of sugar or milk, a half-dozen neighbors were within reach and happy to share. My new neighbors were willing to share too, but I soon noticed they never ran out of anything and needed to borrow from me. So I got the message. Neighbors weren’t expected to be neighborly. We shared a street name in our address and that was it. Now we wave occasionally and everyone seems happy.
Of course, for every rule there is the exception. We have one neighbor family who actually does seem to enjoy our company and regularly invite us over for a front yard meal of lingua tacos or tripas. Neither of which I eat, but Stud Muffin loves both. Our neighbors know I’m squeamish and always have carne asada on hand for me. Now that’s neighborly!
And I do have a few friends I know I can call when I need something. It’s only taken a couple of decades, but we’ve found our community.
And apparently it’s time to be open to expand. I’m trying. Or at least I want to try.
Wow, this is a long tale of Woe! Thanks for sticking with me, both physically and on the web.
What’s your take on community? What does it look like to you?