I have to confess, as important as I believe community is, I’m not very good at it. I can be a bit of a loner and I’m quite happy to have just a few friends (you know–classic introvert). And I married a fellow introvert, so we do community badly together. Eventually, though, I knew I needed to reach out.
I’ve written bits of this before, but it’s what has had me thinking about community. It will be my last fully narrative me, me, me post about community, at least for awhile, though I may do some more posts on aspects of community.
When I returned to California to get married, I guess I thought I would resume the community I had left. That didn’t happen. Shockingly, people had moved on with their lives in the 2 years I was gone. And we lived 40 miles out. And in our busy, busy day to day existence, if you don’t have a second connection (church, work, kids’ schools, proximity, something) it’s really hard to work people in. We saw one another occasionally, sure, but not spontaneously and easily. (Some people are better at staying connected than others and we sure do appreciate the effort.) And in the first two years I was back, both of my old roommates moved east.
I love my fellow grad students here (really kind, wonderful people), but it’s still a commuter school and they were mostly quite young, and I neglected some bonding opportunities in my hurry to get home to my new husband. We did get very close to one couple, my fellow “older” grad student and his partner, but they were from Canada and moved back to Canada when he finished.
Computerguy has terrific college friends who have reached out to us, but we see them only a few times a year.
We started attending a church, but mutually (us and the church) did nothing to try to become community.
After Squeak was born, I stopped trying to teach while finishing my dissertation. Even though I was/am still occasionally on campus, that completely cut me off. Computerguy had his work community and his best friend works with him, so he didn’t really feel the lack. I was getting pretty desperately lonely.
So I said, “Let’s give church another try. It’s not so much about church itself, it’s about going out to lunch after church.” And I had done a web search and suggested we go to the church in town. And about our second time there, the pastor stopped and talked to us on the way out, making us (and Bubble who would not go to nursery) feel really welcome. We sat in the back with Bubble and other parents with small children and felt camaraderie even if we didn’t immediately become friends. We went to coffee hour and awkwardly chatted with folks. Computerguy knew a few people at least peripherally from his job. Even though we were still really sporadic in attendance, by the time Squeak was about to make his appearance, we considered it our church. We attended on Easter Sunday 2009 when I was an obvious 40 weeks pregnant. The pastor asked about due dates and told us to call her when the baby arrived. It was only the 2nd or 3rd conversation we’d had with her, but she seemed so genuine in the request that we did. And when she got the message, she called and asked if she could visit. It was exactly the right thing to do. She came, bringing her 13-year-old daughter. She met my mom and grandma and talked to Bubble and met Squeak and blessed him and left.
That visit sort of cemented our relationship with the church, at least for me. We started attending more regularly and eventually attended new members’ class where we met people beyond our pastor. Then our pastor decided to have a more extensive class for anyone who had joined the church in the last couple of years, a class that would, in an intentional bid to form community for newer members, be held at our pastor’s house and include dinner as well as study. I really wanted to do it. Computerguy was skeptical–more than skeptical really. His response was, “you know all that stuff and I don’t care about it.” Oh. I thought about it for a few more days and then approached him again with the community angle (I was pretty desperate for any kind of connection with grown-up people at this point) and he agreed, perhaps reluctantly, but with his general good grace. It’s been good. We may not have any bosom friends yet, but we are making connections and getting to know people (and the Bible too).
Recently, I attended a Megachurch service with my friends in Tennessee. When I was talking about it with Computerguy, his response was, “I wonder how many times they’ve been to their pastor’s house for dinner?”
And as it turns out, it’s not really about going to lunch with specific people after church, though I look forward to that kind of relationship; this is about being part of the Church herself.