I’ve lost track of her over the years. We went to high school together, though she was in a class ahead of me. We got to be good friends in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I have really great memories of Saundra as well as her family. She was kind, generous, creative, and full of life.
Saundra’s family was Roman Catholic and of German descent. Her father died some time before I got to know her. While her mother, brothers and sisters were all very warm and personable, I know that life had to have been difficult for them. Raising children in the 1960’s and 70’s as a single mother was far from the cultural norm. There were no day care services, after school programs, or much understanding from other people. There was just pity.
In this context, perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I learned that some of Saundra’s siblings began attending the Church of the Latter Day Saints – the Mormons. I remember talking with Saundra and her brother about it. What drew her siblings to the Mormons was something I hadn’t considered: the sense of community and the strong value for family. “People really take an interest in each other. They support each other. That’s not something that happens anywhere else,” her brother said to me.
I had that conversation almost forty years ago. Given societal changes, people are less likely today to find themselves as part of a community than they were forty years ago.
I honestly don’t know if anyone in Saundra’s family actually became Mormon. But I understood that they found something with the Mormon’s that was missing from many people’s lives. Remembering Saundra and her family, it wasn’t a surprise to me when a woman I recently spoke with told me about the sense of loss she experienced by converting from Islam to Christianity. There were many things that led her to leaving the Muslim faith of her childhood. But she said that one thing she will always miss is the sense of community. “You were never alone unless you wanted to be. I always thought others had my best interest at heart.”
Twenty years ago, I worked with a small group of people as the pastor of a new church in Miami Beach. After completing demographic studies and reviewing reports from the City of Miami Beach on the future projections for development in the city, we began to consider what a new church could offer the area. The answer was both simple and obvious: community. Miami Beach was a very transient area with people from all over the world. It was difficult to develop deep relationships with others because people were always passing through, whether for vacation, as seasonal residents, or because they gave up on a dream of living at the beach after a year or two. Rather than try to recruit members of a church, we focused on equipping leaders to host small group experiences that would be opportunities for people to network and experience community. It worked. Within a couple of years, this network of small groups resulted in a Sunday church experience with over a hundred people, including retired Jewish women, single Jewish men, Hindu devotees, and Christians who represented each continent. There were lots of people in small groups who didn’t attend the Sunday services. That was okay. Because at whatever level people chose to participate, there was an opportunity to experience community that was warm, accepting, and dynamic.
In my previous experiences of community, hospitality and acceptance were essential elements. People didn’t need to explain themselves. Instead, they were able to tell their stories and be heard. While people were challenged to grow, there was a fundamental level of acceptance for who each person was. If that acceptance wasn’t present, then the sense of community was lost.
I think that this longing for community and connection is very strong among people today, particularly in Euro-American cultures. The patterns of our cultures have increasingly drawn us into a sense of isolation from others. For this, there is no simple solution. However, I contend that spiritual practice which reminds us of our interconnection with others and draws us into a compassionate awareness for ourselves and others has the ability to lead toward meaningful connections with others. Perhaps, as enough people begin to live with a greater awareness of interconnection and with compassion, then the tide of post-modern isolation will begin to change. The change begins with each of us as we grow to live with compassion for and acceptance of others. That is the foundation for authentic community.
© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.