Jean Mineo recalls a memory that left a powerful impression on how communities form and our ability to go out and create them.
In managing a number of large-scale community-wide events, I find a sense of community can emerge from shared experiences and collaboration in preparation, presentation and as an audience member. Oftentimes, the process of creating the event is where social bonds are deepened. A recent experience in my church showed me a different example of how relationships can start quietly, with a very small spark and no intended outcome.
During Holy Week, our 9th grade confirmation students are required to attend Good Friday services and participate in the rituals that remember the last week of Christ’s life. This may be the last place most of them want to be.
This year, as I sat in my usual spot near the back, I observed a member of our church (I’ll call him Bob) go and sit with one of these students (I’ll call him Jake). I thought it was odd, until I realized Jake’s family wasn’t with him. Bob stayed with Jake throughout the service. Now, Bob is a volunteer leader with our middle school students so he likely knows Jake, but they wouldn’t have worked together during this first year of high school for Jake.
A few weeks later, during a regular Sunday service, I watched as Bob took a seat next to an older woman I’ve never seen before, who was there by herself. It dawned on me that Bob does this intentionally. He leaves his family to sit with those who don’t have family or friends with them. It got me thinking about my own relationship with the service. I recognized that my experience has been more transactional – I attend and hope to get something out of it. Bob opened my eyes to an alternative – a relational experience. He attends and quietly engages those who are vulnerable. He builds relationships one person at a time and in his intentionality, the seeds of a community are planted. Then I realized that I can do this too. I wonder what would happen if everyone took a seat with someone they find sitting alone?