In the circle of shovel-leaners was Art, the 70-something man who faithfully rings the bell every Sunday before worship begins.
And there was Tim, the bachelor who lives just down the road and quietly finds his way to his usual pew every Sunday morning. Fourth row from the back, left side.
There was Trish, whose front-row voice keeps us on key, even when we have to sing the liturgy a capella.
And there was Les, a one-stop shop for the parishioner in need. Les is the kind of guy who will read Scripture at your baptism and sing at your wedding. When you die, he’ll dig your grave in the cemetery across the road. (He does, in fact, perform all three functions for our parish).
And there were others among the shovel-leaners — moms, a grandma and a few of our kids.
What is ideal community? On this side of Heaven, is there such a thing? I’m not sure. But this sinner gave up “ideal” long ago, finding real community underneath this steeple. I found it with this group of shovel-leaners, gathered in a circle overlooking a mess of rocks, dirt and shrubs.
This is my community. And now it was time to get to work, shoulder to shoulder.
Community, Henri Nouwen says, is one of the spiritual disciplines.
It’s not always easy to be a part of community. It takes discipline.
Yep. You got that right, Henri. I didn’t want to go to the church yard that day. I wanted to stay in my own yard, to work on my own landscaping that needed tending.
But I felt the nudge. God was calling. Community beckoned. It took discipline to go.
The girls and I baked cookies. In the van, the girls held pitchers of iced tea and lemonade between their knees, while I (gingerly) drove to the church.
It would have been easy to stay home that day, to pretend like community could be achieved with a polite wave when I saw Tim tending to his yard, or saw Les picking up his mail at the end of the lane. It is easy to isolate oneself.
But, we need to be a part of community, as much as we might want to withdraw from it.
“How can I ever let God’s grace fully work in my life unless I live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it and strengthen it?” — Henri Nouwen
With each wheelbarrow full of dirt…. grace piled higher.
With each turn of a spade …. grace deepened.
With each hole filled … grace put down roots.
What is ideal community anyway? Why did I ever think it was about the ministry, or the music, or the menu options?
Community is found in the in-between places, where grace sprouts unexpectedly at the end of a spade, or at the front of a potluck line, or just inside the door of the nursery.
We will never fully see community
until we drop our shovels