Searching for Community
Community and community development have been a big part of my life for at least the last 10 years as I've worked and studied at various institutions of higher education. Once I started working in residential life my main job became community developer. Both as a student staff member and professional staff member I was responsible for connecting with the students in my building and helping them to connect with each other so that the community would grow and be successful.
The interesting thing I found was that a community would develop with or without my staff or I intervening. The problem was that the community that developed didn't always turn out to be a positive community. Sometimes community developed around underage alcohol use, drug use or vandalism. This was quite a bit different than the community that we hoped to develop around shared interests, common academic goals, and civic engagement. In other cases, both communities formed and tried to coexist with various levels of success.
I'm thinking about community this week for two reasons. First, my current institution has just announced that they are lifting the requirement that all single students live on campus. The fact that this is a graduate school and that all of the students have at least had 4 years of undergraduate experience and some have had other careers makes this announcement not surprising. We currently allow married students to live on or off campus depending on where they can find space. I think it will be a nice opportunity for those who wish to have more space and flexibility to find a place near campus to live. My only concern is the impact that it will have on community. One rationale for the initial requirement was that it would form a communal bond among the students that were living on campus. Now that this requirement no longer exists, it will be interesting to see if a divide appears between the on campus and off campus students in a similar way that it has between single students and married students. There's no malice in this divide, it is simply the reality of living at a distance from each other and not having regular interactions. We used to tell students who were considering moving into a residence hall with communal bathrooms that they would be amazed by how many people they got to know simply because they had to walk down the hallway to brush their teeth.
My second reason for thinking about community struck me as I was eating dinner recently. I realized how many places I've lived and how easily I slide in and out of different communities. There have been communities that I've felt closer to and some that I felt more at a distance. I was thinking about how nice it is to have a supportive community in which you're able to be included.
The fact that community formed regardless of the "professional" staff's involvement and the way I see over and over again people trying to fit into a community makes me understand how desperately each and every one of us wants to be a part of a larger community. You may say, "But I'm an introvert, I just like being by myself." I won't argue with that. As extroverted as I am, I still enjoy quiet time every now and then.
I think community takes many forms. It can be a large group of people that you associate with or it can be a couple of close friends that you're able to rely on. I'm not sure you always have to experience community in person. Some people can find community through TV commentators who share a similar perspective or online communities. Some cultures have very close knit communities that include generations of the same families living with generations of other families.
We were created to live in community, perfect community with each other and with God. Sin destroyed that perfect community and has left us trying to pick up the pieces ever since. That's why our communities always disappoint us. It may not be intentionally. It can be by what they don't do rather than what they do, but it never seems to fail that we are let down at some point.
Sometimes people think that the church is a perfect community. When they have this idea, they are often disappointed at the first time that there is conflict or strife within the church. They think that the church is being hypocritical and get upset. That's the unfortunate reality, though. There will be no perfect communities, the church included, this side of the end of the age. What the church does have, however, is forgiveness through Christ so that its members may be reconciled with each other. That's the best community I can think of!
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My name is Tom. I'm fascinated by the ways that people, ideas, current events and theology interact with each other.