I write this in the tranquillity of the early morning in my study at Midlands CYM Community Week. As I have reflected on what community means and how I might see community in my work context of theological education I have been particularly drawn to this thought from Henri Nouwen:
The word community has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naiveté. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (see Philippians 2:4). The question, therefore, is not “How can we make community?” but “How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?”
I love the way that Eugene Peterson renders this passage (Philippians 2:1-4) in the Message:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
As I start another year with a new group of students – my fifteenth cohort – this is what is on mind – developing and nurturing giving hearts so we offer a quality of community which reflects our loving, giving, accepting God.