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We all know that our world is fragmented socially, economically and politically. This is what makes the gospel so countercultural: we who follow Jesus of Nazareth are called to community.

“Community” is a frequently used term that means different things to different people. In some contexts, community is a space within neighborhood boundaries characterized by a network of interdependent and intergenerational relationships. “Stanford Social Innovation Review” uses a precise, sociological definition for community: “…community is not a place, a building, or an organization; nor is it an exchange of information over the Internet. Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people.”

Community sounds like a dream come true, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us not to cling to superficial ideas. In his book “Life Together,” he says, “The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.”

We all know people like this in our congregation. Because they love the people around them, they have a unique way of creating community everywhere they go. When they serve on a board, the work is accomplished with little friction. When they are involved in a ministry, others are drawn to work alongside them. Their sincere love for people draws in more people, and a community of hospitality and grace begins to develop.

At its core, Christian community is a network of relationships that embodies the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ love ethic infiltrates our care for each other, our speech and our daily practices. So even though we may live in a fragmented world, our congregations and friendships can witness to the transformative love of God as we demonstrate what true community is.

Resources

At Bethlehem Farm, living creatively and building community

A West Virginia Catholic community based on a working farm shares a commitment to sustainability and support for their neighbors with rotating teams of volunteers.

By Zack Harold

‘It was the safest place I knew as a child.’

A pastor and journalist tells the story of the Community of Christ in Washington, D.C., in which she grew up. It was a five-decade-long experiment in living and worshipping in a neighborhood parish that intentionally ended in 2016.

Q&A with Celeste Kennel-Shank

More than finding a room, building an intentional community

CRECHE, a Boston-area co-housing network, offers space for developing deep relationships while easing the burden of high housing costs.

By Phillip Martin

How churches can pursue community healing through economic development

In his resource manual for churches, an expert in urban studies offers practical advice on how religious communities can create a business strategy that helps bring justice to struggling neighborhoods.

Q&A with David E. Kresta

Hospitality, trust and reweaving the fabric of community

At a time when the social fabric is frayed, the church has an important role to play in reweaving community, drawing on the practices of hospitality and trust, says a theologian and professor emeritus of Christian ethics.

Q&A with Christine D. Pohl


Before you go…

One of my favorite and most vivid memories of my childhood church is the potluck dinners we had each quarter. Back then, in our church, in the gymnasium, everyone brought their assigned dish — fried chicken, baked beans, banana pudding. The buffet covered four or five long tables stretched out across the gymnasium floor. All the kids and teenagers sat with each other. Our parents laughed and talked. I didn’t know then, but now I know that sharing one’s gifts and resources, listening and being heard and gathering around a table are essential practices of cultivating community.

We are leading congregations in a perplexing time. People are busy with their lives and the opinions in your church are varied, to say the least. Maybe there’s a way we can take simple steps to bring people together. It may not be a potluck, but who knows what might happen in these fragmented times if we lean into community?

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity


A new grant is available to support endeavors that help children come to know and love God and grow in faith.

The Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative aims to support programs that help congregations strengthen worship and prayer practices that respect how children experience God and express their faith, include children with disabilities, draw upon the arts, create opportunities for Bible storytelling, and connect worship to the daily lives of children and families.

Proposals are due by 5 p.m. (ET) on Monday, May 6, 2024. 

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