Saturday, February 16, 2013

Community as Mission

Recognizing and encouraging community has become central to my sense of being

I crafted a personal mission statement at the end of a 3-day personal retreat at a convent in Independence, Missouri in October 1993.  I stated the following regarding my interest in and commitment to community:

"I value my relationships with persons in community in all kinds of settings. I seek to encourage genuine community, confident that it is a key to the transformation of relationships and institutions."

Initially, this attraction to community and sense of community grew out of my reading and fledgling experiences of it.  I was initially drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's and Henri Nouwen's descriptions of community in faith community contexts.  Then, I was drawn to Parker J. Palmer and M. Scott Peck's descriptions of community in wider, so-called "secular" and public arenas.  I was also privileged to be part of a community-building workshop led by M. Scott Peck.  Later, I was drawn to a community-based way of problem solving in the heart of the city.

All these years after stating my mission regarding community, this continues to be at the core of my sense of being and mission.  In fact, it seems that as I have made room for community in my soul's day-by-day development, community has become mission.  Not so much something that I consciously seek to convert people to or can create, orchestrate, or manage, but something I recognize, move toward, celebrate, and thrive in.

Each week, I enjoy rich conversations with people whom I never would have talked to--because of fear, suspicion, religious-based narrow-mindedness, ideology, and pride--in my early twenties.  Now, I count a diverse and growing cross-section of interesting people as my friends.  I continue to be enriched and challenged by community connections I never imagined.

I am amazed at--and grateful for--the diversity of people and relationships in different settings.  I value these and believe my life is fuller and more challenged by them.

I am convinced that this is result of grace, a means of grace, and an intention of grace.

My initial fears that I would be "polluted by the world" by having anything but cursory contact with people outside the walls of the church were unfounded.  Instead, my sense of relationship with God and with my neighbors has deepened and broadened.

I have never felt inclined to relax any personal moral and ethical principles or compromise my personal convictions.  On the contrary, many of the people I have been privileged to encounter have raised and broadened my understanding of social ethics, responsibilities and possibilities.  Without realizing it, these relationships and the diversity of perspectives has served to sharpen my understanding, focus and power of my Christian faith and caused me to rely on faith more than ever.

I want to contemplate this realization more fully, but for now I simply offer thanks to God and to all for the privilege of experiencing the richness of community in a variety of ways and settings.  Community, to me, is essential to becoming and being fully alive, fully human, more God-like, fully present, and fully future-focused.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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