Community is the way and the purpose. It is about place, but just as much it is a way of relating, of caring, of belonging, of seeing, of linking arms in common concern and neighborly purpose.
Community is both the promise of the authentic church and the telos of the best in urban neighborhood development. Without moving toward community, though they invest impressive facilities, neither the church nor community infrastructures will be healthy or healing.
My journey at the intersection of community and church over the past twenty five years has yielded more than a few insights and learnings. Some gleanings are so obvious I couldn't help but "get it." Some lessons have come via the school of hard knocks. Others have been more subtly discerned.
The following list certainly isn't exhaustive, but there is enough behind each pithy statement for an extended conversation among all who seek to encourage and be faithful to community in a variety of settings. I list them in brief, however, to encourage that very conversation.
Take the community into your heart. Make room for it in your dreams--in your imagination, your planning, your time, your range of care, your hope.
Social services, community development and parish ministries impact far beyond those who participate and can be numbered. There is much more than meets the eye, so think, plan and implement that way.
Keep in mind that community is a dynamic and sometimes messy process often fueled by crises.
Community tends to thrive when information is abundant, available, accessible and visible.
Work at connecting people to one another and to readily available resources.
Clarify and often revisit your urban hopes and dreams with your group, neighbors, and larger community.
Identify the unique roles of a particular initiative, group, ministry or congregation in the community mix.
Property values don't make a neighborhood desirable. Rather, it is neighbors who make room for one another and who highly value the very least.
Expect community resources to be fragile and sometimes unhealthy.
Expect to be asked to lead where you have not led before.
Address community structures and systems so that families, congregations and schools can become whole.
Look for opportunities for synergy and synthesis.
Let grace do its work in the disruptions, the uncontrollable and the unexpected.
John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA