"There are three activities absolutely vital in the creation of community. The first is eating together around the same table. The second is praying together. And the third is celebrating together.” So writes Jean Vanier in Living Gently in a Violent World. In thinking about celebrating he is particularly concerned for our gratitude for the gift of the other: “you are a gift to this community”.
Developing community is becoming a theme of much of church life. Many live disconnected lives. In our culture, we choose to participate or not. And when we choose to participate, we do so without making deep commitments. In church life too. “Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason.” (G. Jeffery MacDONALD, "Congregations Gone Wild", New York Times, August 7, 2010). But in the face of this dabbling many are seeking deeper community. Increasingly over the last number of years, I have heard about developing community life in the local church.
The three activities Jean Vanier highlights are ways for the church to deepen their life together. There was a time when eating together in each other’s homes was a common part of the communities life. Now we visit more easily in cafés. But some of us have noticed how good it is when the community does get around tables in the fellowship hall to eat together. It changes our life together. The same can be said for praying together and those moments of celebration.
Part of our witness to Christ is our common life. Central practices to that story are – as Acts says – breaking bread together (communion plus shared meals), praying, growing in the way of Christ, and caring for each other. When more people are feeling lonely and seeking community, the way Christ taught us to live in community demonstrates compassion and belonging. It can be a witness to the power of the gospel of Christ that binds us together by the Spirit and restores the soul.
As elders I trust that our activities are not only about teaching and visiting, but also about developing community among us. Eat. Pray. Celebrate. The common table. The shared concern. The welcoming celebration. May God help us find ways to deepen the bonds of community among us.