Community as Spiritual Practice

Church is a place for community. We often view this in social terms and miss the point that church as community is like no other. Participation in community is not about membership it’s about discipleship and participation is a form of spiritual practice.

Members view community as a place where they get their needs met when they chose to come and be present. Disciples view community as the agency for God’s purpose not only in their own lives but in the wider world.

Henri Nouwen puts it like this:

The Christian community is not a closed circle of people embracing each other, but a forward moving group of companions bound together by the same voice asking for their attention.

Michelle Heyne comments that:

If we consciously adopt that as our stance and see part of our purpose as attending to the call of that voice in community, it is less likely that the parish will become simply another demand on our time, or a place characterized by turf struggles and pet projects (however worthy) pg 73-74. 

Heyne notes that three key words stand out in relation to Christian community: Formation, Renewal, Apostolate. 

Formation-the maturing of Christian identity around the living-out of the baptismal covenant. Spiritual practice is the means by which we grow in experiential understanding, loving affection, and holy action – doing motivated as an expression of reliance on God.

Renewal – occurs through worship, daily spiritual practice and community involvement and participation.

Apostolate – participation in the work of Christ in service, evangelization, and stewardship – tender competence – in the parish, the workplace, among family and friends, and in civic life. 

The Specific task of the Church – to create healthy communities in which individuals grow into mature Christian disciples.

Scott Peck (The Different Drum 1987) states that the dysfunction in most communities is the result of an inability to create true co-operation. He outlines four stages in moving from dysfunctional to functional community: Pseudo Community, Chaos, Emptiness, and True Community. 

Pseudo Community

A community that pretends all is well through denying the presence of conflict. This is the community where no one confronts the problems but bitches endlessly about them in the car park.

Chaos

When someone or a group break rank and accuse others of ignoring the problems. Because this group has no mature resolution skills it descends into chaos. In such a state the community will either revert to Pseudo Community or move on into Emptiness.

Emptiness

The group refuses to return to denial. It begins to ask questions that create space for reflection, testing out and seeks to create understanding rather than being understood. This lays the possibility of moving to True Community.

True Community

Is marked by a quality of collaboration and flourishing. Energy levels rise, folk engage with what they are passionate about and don’t fear communicating about this, and people enjoy being together.

St Benedict emphasized the importance of cultivating obedience in community life. What he meant by this is the cultivating of the skill of really listening. Not listening selectively, or only when not feeling threatened, but really listening to God’s Word, (Scripture) the consensus in community (the Rule), and the counsel of leadership (authority). He understood the experience in community to be one of life-long learning in the building of a community fit for the Lord’s service.

For Benedict community was the mark of God’s presence in the world. It is through community that we hear God speaking to us. When we pray with each other in mind, when we reflect on God’s Word for our own living and action, but chiefly when we gather for worship, God continually speaks to us, and through us, into the world. These are the deeply Anglican values of community.

In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, form neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found … That is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced. Henri Nouwen Reaching Out.


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