I was out of town for a few days this weekend for the ordination and installation of one of my good friends from seminary. Being with many of my classmates who I had not seen in a group since graduation in May reminded me of the wonderful power healthy community can have in our lives. I realized I would not be where I am today, living with my parents, if it had not been for the community example of my classmates and the example from many Unitarian Universalist churches I have been in contact with over the years.
Six years ago, when we joined our first and current Unitarian Universalist church, West Shore UU Church, was the first time I learned about real community. It was there where I was lifted up and in many ways healed by a community who accepted me just as I am.
Then four years ago, my husband, son and I moved to Chicago for my seminary education. It was with a two and a half year old son, no keys to our new apartment, and a broken down moving truck that, we met Michael and Cara. Just in the midst of having no food and a tired child, Michael came walking into the backyard with his two little boys around Jeffrey's age. They invited us into their apartment. We played and laughed and when Cara got home from work we all had a dinner of mac and cheese, grapes and peas. It was one of the best dinners I can remember.
From then on I learned what community means and I was reminded of it once again this weekend. This weekend I was on traveling alone with my son and yet I was not truly alone. Much of the weekend was spent in choir rehearsals, which would be hard to attend with a child. However, friends of Michael and Cara, who I had just met, and our seminary peers took care of Jeffrey and the two boys. They played with them, drove them from church and back. Carried three car seats, three kids, and various item the kids had brought with them.
Complete strangers, to us, from Michael’s new wonderful congregation provided home hospitality to those of us who had traveled in for the occasion. At the lovely home we stayed in Jeffrey got to eat fresh eggs, see chickens, pick strawberries and carrots, and take a boat ride in a pond. He learned about plants and animals he was unfamiliar with.
It was the example of my friends and the many Unitarian Universalist churches I have been to, which has allowed me to come back and live with my parents. These people taught me that if we can love people just as they are, then we can live in close community together.
Healthy community does not mean a group of people who always get along and are always happy. It means a group of people who have made a covenant (a promise) to support and care for each other. It will not always be easy, you may not always get along, but you keep coming back to the relationship. When things don’t go well, you talk about it face to face. You give in, you compromise, you agree, you disagree. We speak the sometimes hard truth to one another. We celebrate each other’s joys, comfort each other’s sorrows, and speak honestly about our failures. A community does all of those things in respect and love. A community comes back to it’s covenant when it fails and it remakes the promise to each other.
In our house, we have fun, we respect and care for each other, and we mess up. Without my experiences with people who embody this ideal of healthy community, I never would have thought Mom, Dad, Jeff, Jeffrey and I could live together. Other people showing me that I am loved and cared for just as I am enabled me to live out some of my highest values, those of caring for our loved ones. Ever since I was little I had a vision of a world like this, where people helped each other in this way, but I never thought it was possible. These communities I have been with in the past six years have made that dream a reality.
It is with gratitude and joy that I recall that first day in Chicago with Michael and Cara. From their example, and the example of many others, I learned what true community means and now I am able to live that dream with my parents and the larger community of which we are a part.