A Community of Communities

Graphic created by Paul Cole Jones

Last year at General Assembly in Spokane, Paula Cole Jones presented the Fahs Lecture. She reframed how we look at our congregations and what that shift could mean for building Beloved Community. This year she led a follow-up workshop based on her previous lecture. You can be sure I was there! I will attempt to distill it for you in this article, but if you want to learn more, reach out to me and let’s talk.

What am I talking about?

  • We all belong to more than one identity. We present as varying identities depending on who we are with and what we are doing. 
  • A church’s identity is known by its communities
  • A church has various communities: young adults, music program, children and families, seniors, social action committee, you get the idea
  • [Important to note here: a church doesn’t have a church music program if it only has a couple of soloists; an RE community if there are no volunteers; a pastoral community if the minister is doing all the work]
  • People within a congregation belong to multiple communities based on their interests or how they define themselves
  • Church identity also comes from its connection to community outside its walls and how it interacts with those communities

To truly build Beloved Community we have to move away from church as a ‘family.’ This is different from family-size church, which is a term for small churches defined by everyone stepping in to get the work done and one or two strong lay leaders (often founding members), who often hold or wield power simply by being known. Church as family implies a hierarchy and organizes around personality instead of mission. “We always do it this way, or we always have this event” are ways a church as family operates. Tradition becomes stagnation and doesn’t take into account new people coming into the church, unless they happen to agree with the way things are ‘always done.’ We can recognize the importance of our founding history but not get stuck in it. 

A church based on community of communities recognizes multiple paths into the larger congregation, and that these paths are not siloed but support each other and work together to fulfill the church mission. The communities within the community must be seen for the gifts they bring and resourced to thrive. These are often communities that share identities and experiences, like single parents, neurodiverse folks, elders, new parents, BIPOC adults, multiracial families, etc. (Not *just* communities like choir or the social action, which we *also* have.)

4 Points about Community of Communities

  • The are already here: congregations are already doing it, without the recognition that it is essential and needs nurturing
  • Individuals don’t need to be seen as exceptions, no tokenism
  • These should be covenantal vs transactional communities
  • In a community of communities, all 8 principles come into play (side note: if you have not heard of the proposed 8th principle which some congregations have adopted, you can read more about it here.)

If the graphic above isn’t clear enough, think of the church where only one group is supported either financially or through implicit messaging. That group works hard to protect their position without considering how it impacts other communities within the congregation. It’s about what the ‘church’ can do for me or my pet project, rather than how does my identity bring gifts to share and what the gifts that others bring.

What does it mean for Live Oak?

So, in true faith formation style, I’m not going to tell you how I see Live Oak, rather I’m going to leave you with some questions…

  • What is Live Oak known for? (what are our communities that are known beyond our walls)
  • As people come into our congregation, who is helping them connect with their identity groups? This requires relationship building.
  • Who is helping groups connect with each other?
  • How can we work together across identities to build strong relationships?
  • Does this reframing to a Community of Communities shift the way you do your work within the congregation? If so, why and how?

Next week: Reflections on the 2020 Fahs Lecture: Reflecting on Teachings about Indigenous Peoples