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As part of our recent annual meeting at East Zora Mennonite Church (EZ) we wrestled with questions about community. This blog post will reflect on two of these questions.
When is our experience of community meaningful?
There was a lot of energy in all eight of our groups about this question and great diversity in the answers. Most though boiled down to a few main themes: personal, people and church mission.
The first of these themes is personal.
One person talked about how by taking the time before hand to prepare for worship, helped make that worship more meaningful for them. By making preparation for worship, it made worship feel more important and special.
It is often said that anticipation can be just as impactful as the experience itself. This was alluded to in one of the groups. They talked about when there is an expectation of something good, such as a youth lead service, it created a greater meaning to the service.
Finally, one of the groups talked about how when aspects of the service related to them on a personal level it caused that service to take on a deeper meaning. They thus felt more connected with the message and at the same time with the people around them.
The second of these themes is people. Every group talked about how people are what helps make community meaningful at EZ. Often times it is the little things that brings this home, such as a conversation with someone at church who they haven’t seen before, or getting encouragement from a friend after a difficult week. The knowledge that people in the community care about you really makes it meaningful. Other times its as simple is a smile and warm handshake from a friendly face.
Big things also matter. People talked about how it was meaningful when the church came together and celebrated an anniversary or significant victory of an individual. It became a celebration not just for the individual but also the whole church community. This is also true of tragedy. Whether it was an illness or a farm disaster, the community would rally together and support the family, providing food, childcare and supplies. These were the experiences that people noted as memorable and meaningful experiences of community.
The final theme was church mission. Many groups also talked about feeling a meaningful experience of community when they were part of the church living out its mission. This ranged from regular worship to reaching out the disenfranchised and need in the community. Worship was noted in all groups as a meaningful experience that brought everyone together. People talked about how singing and praying together was when you felt the Holy Spirit at work in the group.
Groups equally talked about how it was meaningful when they were helping to reach out and care for people at the fringes of the church. There is something about working with others for the greater good that brings a overwhelming sense of community. Being actively involved makes the church community more meaningful.
A couple people talked about how they cannot imagine how people are able to survive without church.
Though there are lots of time when we experience a meaningful sense of community, there are always times when we fall short and lots of areas where growth is needed. The next question helped us explore this.
When is experience of community not meaningful?
Our greatest strength is the deep sense of family that we build in this church. This has been built by families being part of this church through several generations. But this can also be barrier to newcomers who do not have this history. We strive to be good at inviting outsiders, but through these conversations we have learned that there are places to grow. We often are good at reaching out to them when they first arrive, but soon we fall back into our regular cliques. This can be seen most strongly at potlucks when we congregate with our friends.
A second challenge that came up was the topics of vulnerability and judgement. Can we at times judge those who are different than us or who make mistakes? If people are afraid of being judged then they wont be vulnerable and this hinders their ability to be deeply part of the EZ community. Several people bravely put forward their experiences and fears of judgement, which highlights that we still have work to do in this area.
A third challenge is letting our world outside of church interfere with our ability to connect in with church. Two different examples of this were brought forward by a couple of the groups. The first is coming in with the wrong frame of mind. This means bringing our stresses with us to church. The second is when our lives become so busy that they stop us from fully engaging in church. This can cause us to disconnect from church, and once we disconnect it can be hard to reconnect. We also might be afraid of being judged for putting church second for a period of time. Or for missing worship too many weeks in a row.
These conversations were rich and will help guide us moving forward. We have a strong base of meaningful experiences and interaction that grounds us, but we have also learned that there are lots of places to grow.