The Work of Community

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On our land is a house. It was already an old house before it was moved on skids from down the road to its current location in 1959.

The house wore its character of 100+ years well. There was a kind of beauty in the decay. An artistic expression of age. Even the siding was gracefully falling off and the broken window panes glimmered in the sun. It was weathered, broken, and had become unsustainable for the second time; but yet it was hard to start the process of restoration. It seemed sacrilegious to ruin its picturesque image, but yet we knew somewhere under the decay was the healthy framework of a home.

It required careful and selective demo…ridding itself of the former to make way for the new. Finally, after months of help from family and friends, it again became what it always was meant to be…a home. There is still much to complete, but we moved our family in as soon as there was a stove for heat and a toilet to flush.

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The house has become a narrative for us. For we are also in the process of rebuilding our understanding of church. It’s painful work at times. There is much to love about the old institution. There are important memories and a history worth telling. But like our old house, church has become ornamental – over-grown in budgets, buildings, and opinions. It is evidenced by the crowds who faithfully visit but the church remains a background prop for their lives. Few are actually willing to move in…they pass by only seeing an abandoned structure, ambivalent to the stories of those who called it home. And there are others who disdain its landscape presence, demanding it be torn down and forgotten. It seems we have arrived at a crucial moment…to begin the process of reformation.

I’m not interested in tearing down the church, for I need a spiritual home. I am interested in rebuilding a home from the ground up on the foundational message of Jesus. Not merely a message about Jesus…but upon the wisdom and way that Jesus taught. And there is a radical difference.

The way of Jesus begins in community. Jesus built the foundation of the Church with the simple invitation of “Follow me.” It makes sense, I reckon, to those who understand God as Triune. A God who exists as relationship…surely would begin with relationship. It seems then the thing we call Church is simply this: people in community with Jesus.

I love Wendell Berry’s definition of community.  “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” -Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House, Pg 71.

That’s some serious work. And it’s that work of community over the past two years that has rebuilt our church home. We gather every week with a handful of families. There is no regular time or place, no specific agenda, just the discipline to meet for a few hours and share our lives. We have gathered in barns, parks, and homes. There is no one person in charge. There is usually shared food and shared stories from the week. At some point there is an invitation for everyone to gather around the table. We read from the Gospel (currently Mark) listening for the words that speak in the moment, and we share joys/concerns/needs. Sometimes there’s an response – an offering of help or resources. Always there is encouragement. This is the work of community. This is church.

IMG-0548 (2)It’s taken me quite awhile to call it such. I would talk of our gathering as something in process or something with potential…but I am learning to identify it for what it is. It is Church. Some have hinted from a distance that it is not. Not official enough. Not organized enough. Others share of their own hope for such a community but cannot bear to begin the reformation process.They remain paralyzed in memory, unable to respond to the twitches of discernment flashing in their own imagination. There are still others who cannot imagine a way around the bi-weekly reward of leaving the house exactly where it is. And yes, I have experienced all of those thoughts too.

I have no answers or advice. Certainly no model or articulate argument. But I sense the house is worth saving. There is framework for a home under the decay. And for us, the arduous work of community has created a new home in the church.

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