Building community

Last evening my son and I installed a metal roof on a small woodshed in his yard. The shed started life as a roof constructed to protect a woodpile. It was poorly constructed and he decided to rebuilt it. He added framing to reinforce and strengthen the structure, put siding on the exterior walls and now a new roof on the structure. He already has plans in mind for an additional woodshed in his yard and probably will start construction within a few days. Our visit means that he has access to a pickup truck which enables him to tackle some jobs that are challenging without the truck. He did, however, learn a lot about hauling things in other vehicles from his father. When we didn’t have a pickup I hauled all of the lumber for an extension of our deck on the roof rack of our car. It can be done. It takes more trips and some ingenuity, but it can be done. At any rate, I’m pleased to have him use our pickup and enjoy being invited to participate in some of his projects.

There are conversations that one can have in a one-on-one situation that don’t seem to occur in larger group settings. Yesterday was filled with such opportunities for me. I gave our grandson a ride to his day camp in the morning. It was just the two of us for a 20-minute ride. We talked about everyday things, including the things he likes best about the day camp and a new friend he has made. Then, in the afternoon one of our granddaughters came with me as I set up the grill and cooked part of the dinner. She picked flowers for our camper, showed me some special smooth rocks that she had found, and told me how much she likes to play outside. Then, after we had read stories to the children, my son and I had a little while to work on the woodshed project. We talked a little about the woodshed plans and how they are learning to manage firewood. We talked a little about his work.

The conversations we had yesterday were normal, everyday conversations. In a way they weren’t all that different from the conversations I have with a lot of different people in the course of my work in the church. Community is built out of normal everyday people sharing their normal everyday lives with one another. Their hopes and concerns are voiced and met with a caring response. Tasks are shared. I have long been impressed with how much of the work of the church is done through simple sharing of tasks. We might be working together on a church repair or doing dishes in the kitchen or cleaning up and rearranging furniture after a program. The conversations we have build bonds between people and make connections that make the next shared job just a little bit easier and the sense of belonging just a little bit deeper.

As a pastor, I am aware that just like any family, our church family has a few personality quirks. We are not all the same. There are a few things that some folks do or say that drive other folks up the wall. Life in community always requires work and the work is not always evenly distributed. Some folks pitch in and do work for others. Our need for community doesn’t require perfection. What we need is tolerance for one another’s mistakes, the ability to confess our mistakes and the power of forgiveness. Every family learns those lessons in the course of everyday life. We watch our grandchildren learning about saying, “I’m sorry and really meaning it.” Sometimes it is a hard lesson, but it is an important lesson in communal living.

Our society isn’t very good at providing community for some of its members. Social media can provide some types of relationships, but it is not good at the one-on-one, shoulder-to-shoulder working relationships that build community. Virtual community falls short of real community when life presents us with crises, losses and the difficult decisions that come to each person.

Being on vacation and having traveled far from the community where we live and work has been good for me. I have been aware of the relationships that I miss and the connections that I want to strengthen and build when I return. I am aware of how much work remains in the time that we have as pastors of this particular congregation. Knowing that a year from now we will be making a major change in community in our own lives makes the process of building a resilient community for others all the more urgent. The church that has nurtured our family for a quarter of a century will continue to be a loving and caring congregation. It will continue to be a good place for a pastor and the pastor’s family. It will continue to share community and reach out to others with genuine hospitality, care and concern. It is not a perfect community. There are things in need of repair, relationships in need of healing and new ways in need of learning. But it is a strong community and will continue to be meaningful in the lives of those who belong. Part of the role of every member of a community is to understand how the community continues beyond our brief time of connection. We make investments in the future that reaches beyond the span of our time. Learning to say good bye is an essential part of the process.

It is not, however, easy. A vacation is giving me some perspective that will help when I return and lead the next few months of the life of the congregation. Clearly the life of the congregation is not about me. It is about reaching beyond who we currently are and discovering what we are in the process of becoming. New leaders will emerge. New members will shape the future of the community. We have an opportunity to leave a legacy, but we do not control the future.

This particular congregation will have a special place in my heart for all of my life. Still, I am but a small part of a much bigger story - one that will unfold beyond my wildest imagination.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!