Ideal Community

May 20, 2009 | 21 comments

I once had an idea of what my “ideal Christian community” would look like.

Ideally, I’d be welcomed into a church family where I could select from a menu of Bible studies.

Ideally, I’d sit at a giant wooden oval table in a newly-carpeted Fellowship Hall, with other thirty-something women. Ideally, an anointed teacher would lead us through the Scriptures, deftly handling the original Greek or Hebrew, with life lessons for modern-day women.

Ideally, my family would choose from a buffet of worship options: contemporary worship with a live band for the jeans-and-T-shirts-crowd at 8:30 a.m. Or perhaps, hymns and liturgy at 10:30 for the dress and necktie crowd. Or maybe, a combination service held the night before.

Ideally, we’d have the perfect blend of old and new. We’d wave Palm branches, light Advent candles and say the Lord’s Prayer. But we’d also sing along to Chris Tomlin hits with an acoustic guitarist up front.

Ideally, that’s what my Christian community would have looked like.

Ideally.

That was before I discovered grace and community under the steeple of a little country church — one mile from my front door.

***

Last week, the project taken on by my community seemed less than … ideal.

We had gathered here on a spring afternoon, under the steeple of our church, for a long-overdue landscaping project. We clutched rakes and leaned on shovels and stood in a circle as we looked at the mess under our feet.

Where would we begin?

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

to step back
and fix our eyes fully
on what we built
shoulder to shoulder

It is here, on holy ground, that we will watch grace grow to fullness in the shape of a cross.

For Grace has always come in the shape of a cross. Like this:

Photos: Our church landscaping project — From rocks and dirt … to a cross-shaped reminder of grace and community.

by | May 20, 2009 | 21 comments

21 Comments

  1. From the Heart

    Jennifer, Thanks for visiting my blog. Please come back anytime.

    I have read some of your blog and am so glad that you realized that there is a God who truly loves everyone, Jesus, God’s son who saves those who call upon Him, and heals the sick, the lonely, and those who believe in His name, and the Holy Spirit who comforts us in times of need and prays for us when we don’t know how to pray.
    The amazing part is they are all three in one and hears every sinners prayer,and every Christians’s prayer and will do what is best for us when we ask in Jesus name. Sometimes I think we ask for things that may not be good for us and He says, no, but sometimes He lets us go through trials to make us strong. I’ve been a Christian since I was in my teens but never truly knew Him until about 7 years ago. When you visit again read My Story which is on the left sidebar of my blog. Just click on the heart.

    I’m not a writer but I did a card ministry for about 6years and through God’s help He always sent me something I could use in a card. I truly love God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and believe in the fruits of the spirit and the gifts of the spirit.

    I appreciate your comment on my blog because it is truly dedicated to God and I try to follow His leading and pray people are blessed by what is there.

    If you did not sign my Guestbook, I hope you will when you come again. It’s nice to see who visits and where they are from.
    From my heart to yours,
    AliceE.
    PS I love the cross you and members of your church did.

    Reply
  2. Chris Godfredsen

    Community saved me, Jennifer!

    And I would agree that my ideal of what community ought to be and look like isn’t what it once was.

    My community has many faces – and I would say that I even belong to several different smaller communities – but my worshiping community includes alcoholics, mechanics, an 80 year old evangelist, people with tremendous needs who are sometimes shunned in other settings.

    I guess that’s why the Nouwen quote resonates so deeply…

    “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?”

    Getting too long – but true Christian community is about loving each other no matter who we are, what we’ve done or where we’ve been. Young or old. Rich or poor. It’s a life that has been changed and allowing grace to fully work!

    Grace and Peace!

    Reply
  3. Chris Godfredsen

    Community saved me, Jennifer!

    And I would agree that my ideal of what community ought to be and look like isn’t what it once was.

    My community has many faces – and I would say that I even belong to several different smaller communities – but my worshiping community includes alcoholics, mechanics, an 80 year old evangelist, people with tremendous needs who are sometimes shunned in other settings.

    I guess that’s why the Nouwen quote resonates so deeply…

    “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?”

    Getting too long – but true Christian community is about loving each other no matter who we are, what we’ve done or where we’ve been. Young or old. Rich or poor. It’s a life that has been changed and allowing grace to fully work!

    Grace and Peace!

    Reply
  4. Jennifer

    Alice — So nice to meet you! I will come back to your blog to read your story and sign your guestbook. You are a dear soul.

    Chris — Amen brother! Love your description of true community, as God intended. That is definitely “ideal.”

    Reply
  5. LisaShaw

    Beautiful message Jennifer and one that many need to read.

    The ideal community for me is a group of people who love the LORD, each other and extend out to reach others with compassion and care in Christ.

    Often we all bring our own background and baggage into the mix but the truth is it’s all about what lifts up JESUS and glorifies GOD. I was blessed in your sharing. Glad I was able to come by today.

    Bless you sweet one.

    Reply
  6. Billy Coffey

    You’re right, Jennifer. There may not be an “ideal” community this side of heaven.

    But yours? I’ve yet to see one as close to ideal as yours.

    Reply
  7. Lyla Lindquist

    You know, those seeds you were just talking about don’t always just sprout adorable little corn stalks. Sometimes they do more vine-y kind of stuff, maybe even the little runners that crawl across the top of the ground. Kind of like the one that just wrapped itself around my ankle. And gave me a good hard yank.

    Nearly fell down, I did.

    I too have a picture of my “ideal” community. It would cater to all my little wishes and not take much of my effort . . . Might even let me stay home in the quiet.

    God reminds me today of the way He has blessed me with the unlikely community of my church family. Not what I would have sought out, with her troubled past. Yet . . . here we are, in the thick of it, joining in her healing and rejoicing in God’s dreams for His bride here in her tiny corner of His big world.

    Thanks for this today. I can see some familiar faces leaning on similar shovels.

    Thanks for this reminder, timely as it is.

    Reply
  8. KNIGHT ROY

    your site is beautiful….

    Reply
  9. Warren Baldwin

    I linked here from Jason’s site. Good post, Jennifer. I am a minister and am always wondering how we can foster more of a sense of community. Your church did that with a neat landscapping project. The different personalities, the health of some, the brokenness of others … everyone is needed to comprise what we call “the community.” In such a divergent group of humanity God works his miracle of making us one. Good job of building important message.

    Reply
  10. jasonS

    wonderful post- community is essential! Look forward to reading more in the days ahead. Blessings and thanks for checking out my blog.

    Reply
  11. James Oh

    I agree with what Chris had mentioned above.

    God bless,

    Reply
  12. L.L. Barkat

    Is that a poem I see? Shall I link to it for RAP? 🙂

    Reply
  13. lynnrush

    Oh wow. Great post!

    Reply
  14. Warren Baldwin

    Thanks for the visit today!

    Reply
  15. Chrissy

    I love it! (both your post and the landscaping)!! Your mention of those few names made me long for those friends. Please tell everyone I said hello! Thanks for sharing this wonderful story of a place I remember so fondly!

    Reply
  16. christy rose

    Jennifer,

    Wow! What God can accomplish with those that will unite together with a single goal in mind, not for the betterment of the individual but the whole. Community brings unselfishness into our lives and releases the character of our God.

    Thanks for this,

    Christy

    Reply
  17. Marcus Goodyear

    Jennifer, I’ve been struggling so much with community lately. This post meant more to me than you can know.

    I came over here to leave encouragement about your poem, but now I don’t have anything to say except thanks.

    I’ll continue to muddle through our community problems here in the hill country.

    Reply
  18. Rob G.

    You might consider reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” if you haven’t already done so. In writing about Christian community, he examines, among other things, the pitfalls of our “Visionary Dreaming” – that is, our own ideal community and how that often gets in the way of God’s vision of community.

    Thanks for sharing, and it’s great to see the landscaping project finished! I wish sometimes I were there to enjoy it.

    Reply
  19. Sara

    Lovely post. Thank you. Is your Trish the Trish I was in band with at WSC … we were fellow trumpeters? She has a beautiful voice. She’s a music teacher now if I’m not mistaken. Always blessed by your words. Have a great weekend.

    Reply
  20. Tea With Tiffany

    Words don’t come easy with a grace filled community post like this. I see such beauty. I’m touched. Deeply. I feel a greater longing.

    Reply
  21. sharilyn

    i’ve been thinking about the word “community” lately, and for the first time noticed that “unity” is a part of it. never really thought about it before, but that is the key– a group of people being in unity. not all alike, different personalities, different thoughts and life experiences…maybe even different beliefs in the smaller details… but all working together, being together for a common purpose. in the case of Christians, community is about pursuing the common purpose of following, reflecting, and sharing Christ… community. unity. communing together.

    with the help of the Holy Spirit within us, may we do and be community in the truest sense of the word.

    ps. love your poem.

    Reply

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