Community is my life. I often hear comments about how hard community is and how not everyone can “do community”, but I genuinely believe that it is a calling from Jesus; it is as fundamental to our faith as prayer, worship, or service. It is not an “extra” we choose in our faith. We are called to join in community and let it infiltrate our lives the way incense does our senses: you smell it, see it, feel it, taste it. As the letter to the Philippians exhorts, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:4-5).
As obvious as it might seem, community looks different for different communities, and in that sense it can be hard to implement. We can get stuck with stories or ideas of what community should look like and get overwhelmed or discouraged when we can’t meet these visions. But every community is different, and will need to function in different ways according to its needs. Some communities run as churches; others are large houses with people learning to share; others are in a few different houses; and the list goes on and on. I would define community as a place or time that is shaped by the people in that time and space, through the sharing of gifts, pain, and joy.
Little Flowers is the faith community I participate in. It has taken a variety of forms at different times, as, I think, it should. There have been times of joy, sorrow, mourning, organization, chaos, miracles, failings, growth, shrinking, and so on. We have by no means done it all right, but we have learned that community takes work, vulnerability, honesty, and commitment.
Little Flowers is a faith community supported by Youth With A Mission Winnipeg and the Mennonite Church of Manitoba which participates in life in the West End of the city. It is a neighbourhood that is culturally diverse but economically poor. We meet in two different houses each week and as a larger group once a month. There is laughter, tears, joy, and pain shared. I sit with a community member while she mourns the loss of her spouse. That same community member takes care of me when I am sick. It is thousands of these moments given and shared that create community.
It is possible to look at Little Flowers and think, “Wow, they have three community houses, two house church locations, and an intentional community apartment building; I could never do that!” Well, you can! It has taken us almost seven years and a wide range of people, skills, and commitment to arrive at this place. It all started with a group of people having dinner. Breaking bread. Sharing moments. These weekly meals grew, and more people would come week by week. One day, someone said, “Let’s start a church!” and it grew day by day into what we have now.
Yet I must admit that I have almost quit countless times. I get tired and fed up, and my heart aches for a normal life: a self-centered life with a high paying job in a safe neighborhood, where I don’t have to worry about other people’s problems. As much as that sounds easy, I just can’t do it; the calling I feel is too deep. Being Jesus to all the messy, dirty, broken people around me is too important.
So where do we start? How do we do it? Many times in my journey, I have needed to go back to the words of Jesus: “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be give to you as well” (Matt 6:33). This verse reminds me that I need to simplify my life; that chasing after God’s kingdom is all that matters. Community begins with breaking bread: a meal shared and Jesus’ body broken. It is really very simple at this point. It starts with just a notion or dream, and then we step out into it.
As we begin to make community a way of life, we reflect God’s image as we become more like Christ. And as we encourage one other to love and good works, community can spread out the load of the burdens we have been carrying alone. Even when I am feeling burdened with caring for a hurting person in our community, the whole burden is not on me. It is my job to love such a person like Christ, and the rest I can leave in my community’s hands.
Laura Everett is the Clothing Program Coordinator at Siloam Mission and a member of the leadership team in the Little Flowers Community.