This is an article that I wrote for the “Speaking of Religion” column in the Bennington Banner. Here is a link to the Banner article: http://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/speaking-of-religion-its-all-about-community,530491?
Like many of us, I was moved on January 15th when roughly a hundred people gathered on a cold winter evening to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A few dozen came together at Four Corners to sing songs of protest, and many more joined in at the Oldcastle Theater to share fellowship and hear speakers. Together we celebrated Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community and bore witness to the fact that the Beloved Community has yet to be fully realized.
Each of the speakers rose to describe for us, in part, what the Beloved Community meant to them. Though each of those who spoke addressed their context, together all of those visions helped to build a more complete picture of what the Beloved Community might be.
As a Christian and a pastor, the Beloved Community is especially important to me. it is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Literally. Over and over again translations of the New Testament use the word “church,” and, though the sense of the word rings true in translation, the literal meaning of the word translated into “church” is more accurately “assembly,” or “gathering.”
In that sense, the very first time the word appears in the New Testament Jesus says to his Disciple, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my community “
I have come to Bennington to start a new faith community for the United Methodist Church, a new community honoring the legacy of the past, but looking to the future with hope and purpose. Will this community be a church with dynamic, energetic, Spirit-filled worship and powerful music? Will it be a missional community, developing deep roots in our neighborhoods, working to share one another’s hardships and vulnerabilities? The answer to both of those questions, God willing, is yes.
But before it can be a church, it has to be a community. A community in which we wrestle with doubt and skepticism without judgment or condemnation, as we walk our faith journey together. A community in which we seek to grow by learning from one another with open minds and hearts. A community in which we stand with our neighbors sharing both life’s struggles, and life’s joys, spiritually and emotionally, and with practical and tangible action.
A community in which all are welcome, without qualification, because we are all beloved children of God.
Community is at the foundation of what it means to be human. Community is in our DNA. We are not meant to exist in isolation. We are built to live together, work together, struggle together, win together, fail together, seek together, doubt together, and learn together.
Most of all, we are meant to love together, not as an emotional state, but in action, reaching out beyond our preconceptions to say to those around us, you are my sister, and you are my brother, and whatever burdens we may have to bear, they’re easier when we share them.
In fellowship. In community.