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Diverse, dispersed community

Kaye Ronalds. Photo: Holly Jewell

Jeff and Jean, from Oregon, USA, are part of my community. I have never met them.

Years ago my husband used to order bicycle parts from a mail order catalogue, but in time orders were placed by email. Little notes, photographs and snippets of family news started appearing on the emails as the orders went back and forth.

This year their son visited Australia and came to our home for a few days. He said, “My parents have been talking about you guys for years!” This month our daughter and her fiancé went to the States to visit Jeff and Jean in their home.

In our churches we need to understand that community now includes a virtual component. People may not physically gather, but they build community by interactions on Facebook, email, text, Twitter and Skype. I am still learning some of that way of being Church.

It is not so different from a congregation I visited recently. About 40 people were in the building but when it was time to bring our prayers for others I heard about another 15 people who were part of that community. Sickness, frailty, family responsibilities, travel and work commitments kept them from being physically present but the care and prayer connected them.

Scripture suggests that the early church experimented with living in community and sharing all things in common. Maybe they thought it would only be for a short time but they committed themselves to each other and became known for their love for each other. Sometimes the best kind of community occurs when people are simply offering generous hospitality rather than setting out to build community.

While it is possible to be a Christian in isolation, there is something quite challenging and rewarding about being a Christian in community. It is easy to love others “in theory” but when you hear them spout different political views, or give expression to a different kind of Christianity, or they have annoying habits or choose an alternative lifestyle, love can be tested and community can become fractured.

I have been around the church long enough to know that sometimes people feel betrayed, ripped off, misunderstood, heartbroken or angry about the behaviour of people with whom they thought they were in community. That is why Jesus spoke so much about forgiveness, but at times it is a hard ideal to fulfil.

I think Bonhoeffer captures this in his book Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, “Just as Christians should not be constantly feeling the pulse of their spiritual life, so too the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more assuredly and consistently will community increase and grow … ” Over to you.

Photo : Kaye Ronalds. Photo: Holly Jewell

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