Dec. 7. Prompt. Community: Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered community in the ministries of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church where I serve as an associate pastor for Youth and Mission & Outreach. During the week, Rainbow Village Inc., hold after-school sessions at Pleasant Hill for elementary-high school kids whose families are accepted into the program. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, volunteers from various churches in Duluth come to Pleasant Hill to cook and serve a meal to the Rainbow Village families (PHPC members serve meals on the third Tuesday of every month). Following the meal in which volunteers and families eat together, the kids continue doing homework and other activities (same as they were doing in the afternoon) while the parents (mostly single moms) attend a class to learn skills that will help them be more self-sufficient and create more stable home environments, thus breaking the cycles of homelessness, poverty and domestic abuse that have been consuming them.
The part I enjoy most about the Rainbow Village-PHPC community is the work we do together during Advent-Christmas. Last Saturday, the Rainbow Village Children’s Program Coordinator and I, along with 14 church members took 15 Rainbow Village kids shopping at Target for their mothers, and then came back to the church for a gift-wrapping/pizza party. And in a couple of weeks, the church will host the Rainbow Village Christmas Store (a joint venture that is organized by the Rainbow Village Family Program Coordinator, myself and another church member) in the Fellowship Hall. The store is filled with numerous donations from the church and other organizations and businesses that support Rainbow Village; and the moms get an opportunity to go through the store and pick out (at no costs) Christmas presents for themselves and their families. Rainbow Village and church members volunteer to serve by wrapping the gifts, being personal shopping assistants, loading cars with packages as well as canned food that’s been collected, providing hot chocolate and cookies. It’s a joy to be able to interact with the families that Rainbow Village supports and the idea of interconnectedness and community takes on greater meaning when the church is building relationships with others from different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, especially during a season in which we celebrate the coming of the child who desires for us all to be in one unconditionally loving community.
In February, July and October/November of every year, 70 plus church members participate in Host Week for homeless families who are part of Family Promise of Gwinnett County program. The Middle School Youth Group transform the upstairs children and youth Sunday School rooms into comfortable living-spaces (like mini-apartments) with fold out beds, blankets, pillows, flowers, lamps, alarm clocks, stuffed animals. They also make fun signs with the family members’ names to go on the door. Throughout the week and weekend, church members volunteer to provide evening meals, serve the meals and host the meals (i.e. provide hospitality and eat with the families). Members also serve as overnight hosts, spending the night in the church and are available if a family has an emergency or there is a building issue (like a clogged toilet or a light that doesn’t work). Often members bring their young children or youth and it’s always a thrill to watch them play with the children in the Family Promise program. As they run up and down the halls laughing and chasing one another, the boundaries are broken. There is no more poor or rich. Black or white. Young or old. All are one in community in Christ.
On the second Sunday of every month, the church holds a Fellowship Meal followed by an alternative and more contemporary worship service in the Fellowship Hall called “upWord.” And while the food is always delicious and worship is always uplifting, the true highlight of the evening is the men from Clifton Sanctuary Ministries who break bread with church members and then stay for the service, either as participants or as worship leaders (singing music, reading scripture or giving testimonies).
Pleasant Hill has had a strong partnership with Clifton for many years. The church’s Men’s Group has helped the Clifton guys do repairs on their facility and the High School Youth have served breakfast at Clifton on a few occasions. Another group of volunteers provides monthly dinners on Friday evenings. And many folks support the work of Clifton through financial donations.
The Clifton guys are such a huge part of the life of Pleasant Hill and I was reminded of what a blessing their relationship and community is for the congregation whe n some of the residents spoke to a group of Middle School Youth this summer. MS Youth Groups from four Presbyterian churches (First Pres in Shelbyville, TN; Harpeth Pres in Harpeth, TN; Davidson College Pres in Davidson, NC; and Swarthmore Pres in Media, PA) joined Pleasant Hill’s Youth for a week of mission work in Duluth-Atlanta, i.e. “Mission Possible” (And let me tell you, nothing creates community like 70-something middle school youth from different churches living for a week in a church building without access to showers :-))
After dinner on the first evening of Mission Possible, three Clifton residents shared their lives, their story with everyone. They shared how they became homeless (via a serious accident where there resources were eaten up by medical bills or through losing their job), the struggles they endured on the streets and how Clifton Sanctuary Ministries helped them get back on their feet. These men reminded us how the power of loving communities (whether non-profits or religious institutions or neighborhoods or cities or towns) can make an incredible impact in the lives of those who are hurting and in need.
I’ve also found community in a group of Columbia Theological Seminary classmates and friends. It’s been a blessing to reconnect with the Ball, Hay, Davis, Howard, Fouse and Tolbert families once a month in each other’s homes or Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta or at our old stomping grounds of Los Bravos Mexican restaurant in Decatur. All of us have children below the age of 3 (except for the Tolberts whose three boys are now teenagers!) and it’s fun to see all of the kids interact with one another and grow up together. It’s especially neat to see the Tolbert boys play with the little ones, considering that many of us were their babysitters during seminary. Elizabeth, Katie and I are looking forward to hosting the group (dubbed S3–Third Saturdays of the month–a spin on a program Columbia offers for pastors who’ve recently graduated seminary) at our house in a couple of weekends. Nothing better than seeing good friends, sharing our lives, families and careers and (this time only) playing the time-honored Christmas game The White Elephant Gift Exchange.
Last but certainly not least, I’ve seen community in the hit NBC comedy Community. It’s one of the funniest shows on TV and is chock full of great insights and lessons about what it means to build community among folks with diverse backgrounds, politics, religious beliefs, personalities, hang-ups, quirks, problems, etc. And as zany as the antics can become (which would mean cancellation for a lot of shows) the absurd situations end up being brilliant metaphors for how we can all be better to be a community.
My hope for 2011 is to continue to make deep connections with the communities I’m currently in and also make room for other individuals who might be able to stretch those same communities with their own unique identities and perspectives.