Community as a Spiritual Practice

March 14, 2023

Most of Sunday was spent in community, my faith community.

There have been years in my life when I have existed without community. Oh, there were bits and pieces of community along the way–groups I have participated in, volunteer work I’ve done–but those all felt temporary and dependent upon specific people or an interest in a particular cause. They were valuable and important communities, but at a certain point I moved on, and there was a natural ending.

Around eight years ago, after moving back to Minnesota, my husband and I joined Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. As genetic Lutherans, it was not a hard decision. Plus, our daughter and family were already members there. Being in the same congregation with them is a real bonus, but our life within this community is so much more. It is a place of belonging, but it is also a place of growing and caring a nd showing up. Of grounding and stretching.

Sunday was such a good day of “encountering others” which is how Barbara Brown Taylor refers to the spiritual practice of community, and such good encounters the day offered — lots of hugs and one-on-one conversations–but even more than that, the reinforcement of intentions to encounte others through the various aspects of our proclaimed mission.

First, we gathered for adult forum, a weekly time of education for adults. This week poets, who are members or who are connected to our congregation in some way, read poems they had written or poems that had meaning for them. One woman read a poem she had written following the death of her beloved father. Another read her own poems, but also shared her experience of reading poetry to people in a memory care unit. One woman remarked how wonderful it is to be part of a congregation that values poetry. What a privilege it was to be in the presence of such creativity and depth.

Next, we attended worship. Each week we sing together, pray together, confess together. We open our hearts and our ears to words that encourage us to grow in our understandings. We receive the bread and the wine. We are reminded of the gifts we received at our baptism. We greet one another and we welcome new members. We lift up and hold one another. We restore and prepare for the challenges in our lives and the life of our community.

Then we ate together. Our Fellowship Hall filled with hungry members, and we enjoyed a potluck–for the first time since the pandemic. It was quite the feast! (I brought lemon pound cake, an Ina Garten recipe.) Was there enough food? Of course, there was, as fulfilled in the scriptures!

Eating and conversation was followed by our annual meeting. The meeting opened first with prayer and then a reading of our Land Acknowledgment Statement.

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church recognizes that its building stands on traditional Dakota land near Bdote Mini Sota, the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, the center of creation for Dakota people and also sacred to Ojibwa. The congregation acknowledges that this land was taken from Indigenous people by exploitation and violence. Given the deep significance of this sacred ground, as well as its painful history, the congregation recognizes its responsibility to use this land, its building and mission for the work of reconciliation and healing with Native people. The congregation repents of this injustice that continues to harm Native communities and pledges to work for justice, peace and the wellbeing of all creation.

The main purpose, of course, was to pass the budget for the year, which includes reparations to Native people. It passed unanimously. Even though our congregation is in the midst of an unexpected challenge, the feeling in the room was one of gratitude and a willingness to grow towards greater strength. We are open to the invitation, even if we can’t quite define what that invitation is yet.

I realize, of course, that there are others ways to experience and participate in community, and I also realize a commitment to community is not always easy and sometimes belonging to a community is synonymous with exclusion. Choose your community wisely, and keep it healthy through your active participation, in order for it to live beyond and after you.

I like what Debra K. Farmington says:

When we live with community we give ourselves the opportunity to learn about the faces of God that we would not ordinarily see. It is in the community that our image of God is tested and refined, where we are held accountable for what we believe and how we act, and ultimately where we meet God in the fullest possible way.

It is also within community that we find love and encouragement and support on the spiritual path. We find others who pray with us and for us, who celebrate our lives and ask us to celebrate theirs. In community we find laughter as well as tears; we find people to play with, as well as ones who can mourn with us when times are rough. It may even be that we have gifts and skills that would not manifest themselves outside of community. By failing to use them or by hoarding them for ourselves, we miss what God has so graciously given us.

Living Faith Day By Day, p. 154.

Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I am an introvert, and I know I need to balance community time with alone time. Monday was a day when I practiced solitude, but also a day when I tenderly held the awareness of the gifts of community. Sunday had not only been a full day, but a day of fullness.

An Invitation

Where have you experienced the gifts and the challenges of community? I would love to know.

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