Blessed Community – United Methodist Insight

Dress above all in the love that connects everything in perfect harmony. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, to which you are truly called in one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3: 14-15, NRSV

That’s why I’m excited about this upcoming weekend because I’m going to retire with a dear group of friends. This group began as a study of the church book, but quickly turned into something much deeper and more meaningful. Admittedly, members of this group floated and went out as their life circumstances changed, but someone knows that there is always room at the table; there is always an empty chair to pull into the circle.

Together we traveled through the diverse terrain that life brings. We celebrated in great style and showered with blessings many life transitions.

We are strong women, independent women, different women and certainly women with a sense of opinion connected through the dreams we carry, the anxiety that shaped us and the rich conversation we experienced in the circle. My life was richer because of these women and because of them I found it easier to endure difficult things. These wonderful women are my definition of a community – a community that transcends distances and differences, that accepts and challenges and that binds and loves each of us along the way.

I’ve always loved the music of folk singer, Carrie Newcomer. So often the verses of her songs speak to the spaces of pain that I occasionally feel. I especially love her song titled Three Women because it reminds me of this group of women and gives a voice to what binds us. She sings these words in her song Three Women:

Here are women who tie their wounds tightly.

Here’s for those who sit and talk midnight.

Here is the love and life that fixes.

And here’s the strength in holding women by the hand.

Sometimes I wondered if this was the type of community Jesus had built with his beloved disciples. Yes, he was their teacher and Lord, but he was also the one who walked beside them along the way, listening to their worries and fears. He laughed with them as they shared meals together. He was the one who prayed for them and kept their pain in his heart. Theirs was a community where you knew you were loved, held, and accepted even in difficult things (especially in difficult things).

I think we all long for that kind of community in our lives. I would go so far as to say that our churches would be full if we offered such a community.

I believe that community is the backbone of strong emotional health, both for the individual and for the church. Together, it can establish a person or religious community and help them persevere. Unfortunately, maintaining a strong sense of community throughout the pandemic was incredibly challenging. Time and time again, sitting with people of all ages from the church, I heard this deep longing or thirst for these deeper relationships. That makes sense, because so much of what we do in church is about relationships. I am not surprised that with all the isolation caused by the pandemic, there is a deep longing for the company of others.

During our indictment conference, I spoke with individuals from other churches and felt that the loss of the community had increased. Church members complained that the church community had turned into something more reserved and careful — hand access, where people struck with their elbows and maintained an appropriate distance. Some commented that the community had completely changed because many adored it from the computer screen.

Honestly, it causes pain in my spirit – this loss of the collective that we have gathered. This is part of the reason why I am so excited to be spending time with these women again. The tangible community renews and renews my spirit. For now, I carry a picture of that time when our religious communities will feel whole again. In my mind, I see each member holding the hands of his fellow men, bound and bound in love as the body of Christ.

Credits: Carrie Newcomer, Three Women, from the Angel album on my shoulder.

Reverend Nan Smith serves as pastor at Hope United Methodist Church in Marshalltown, Iowa. This post was republished with the permission of the “Abiding in Exile” series of the annual conference in Iowa.

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