I was led to experience and work with three very different kinds of community this past summer, each of which has caused me to re-think what that word, ‘community’, which we so rightly use, might mean.
My first experience was in helping to lead a CARM retreat at Glastonbury in the west of England. ‘CARM’ stands for Creative Arts Retreat Movement. The retreat consisted of a number of individuals who quickly became a group centered around a day that was split between silence and graphic art of a variety of forms, with a good helping of humour thrown in.
My next experience was at Tymawr, an Anglican Contemplative convent deep in South Wales. Once it was 43 sisters strong and almost totally self-sufficient, with cheese-making and a printery; now it had only eleven sisters but there was a vast cadre of associates, oblates and volunteers of various sorts, including myself, and diocesan support. All of this has helped to keep the place vibrant.
Brother John, an Anglican Anchorite attached to the place, pondered whether the Sisters knew how vulnerable they were. His voice sounded a bit familiar. I reflected on the dedication to the task of beautifully offered daily offices, to providing a place of hospitality to those who came to help or be helped, both undertaken with a sense of purpose.
Last but not least, was my experience of A Rocha in Southall, London. That organization seeks to bring an awareness that God’s mission encompasses the environment and not just people. It lives by the five ‘C’s : Christian, community, cooperative, contextual and multi-cultural. It works to make this visible in whatever situation it finds itself around the world, by work and by education.
In Southall, there was an administrative office, from which educational materials were sent out. There was also a local project, which in this case was the reclamation of an abandoned park and the creation of a community resource.
Together with the local municipality and local groups such as schools, cycle clubs, birding groups, etc., a place was developed that included a playground for children, a cycle circuit, a soccer pitch, a bird sanctuary and a place where dogs could be exercised, on a hill constructed and ‘grown’ out of the remains of the old Wembley stadium.
Each of these ways of being community were a little different from the way we understand the institutional church and I wondered what they might tell us about the awareness of being called, of being a place of hospitality, of expressing the love of God in other ways; giving voice to the voiceless, of creating cohesion around a sense of mission. There is no doubt that each was held together by the ancient gifts of hope, faith and love.