Are we losing the idea of community?

By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

A rather vigorous Facebook discussion broke out in mid-November; the subject of which was an Ordination service that wasn’t as well attended as those in the past.

While that is a subject worthy of discussion and debate, it points to a larger question, which I think may be even more vital today. Are we losing the idea of “community?”

My children look at me with that glazed over look in their eyes when their rapidly aging father pulls out another chestnut from his childhood. “Remember the days when there were 25 or 30 kids playing in somebodies back yard, there wasn’t a fence in view in any direction, and the parents of those children were all closely acquainted.” Compare that to my street today where I can recognize most of the people, put names to some of them and two kids playing together is a “happening.”

Perhaps community now takes a different form, outside the neighbourhood? Certainly much of our community, I would argue way too much, occurs on the internet. So many community groups seem to be begging for people to join in, to help out, to show some interest. It could well be there are simply more types of communities to be found today. What I really want to address is how this affects us in the church.

There is no doubt there are fewer of us Anglicans in almost every community. What I hear is that every Anglican community is trying to build, rebuild, coerce, recruit; whatever the word you want to use, new community. We then run head long into the question that seems to haunt every level of life: the rapidly growing gulf between the ways generations do things. See above example about my children’s reaction to what I think are fantastic tales of great community.

So with fewer people, and a growing difference in the way we understand community, how do we build said community?

Well, I’d like to say I have some answers, but I don’t. I do however think we need to address the question of community and give it much more priority in the way we do things. I think that at the very least it takes what is always at the root of community and that is the building of relationships. That needs to take place at every level of the church from parish, to deanery, to diocese to national; and it must be a conversation we are willing to undertake across the generations.

Community is, after all, about caring. If we care about a person or a group, large or small, we will seek out the opportunity to interact and build relationship.

So this begs the uncomfortable question: as Anglicans, do we care about other Anglicans on a level that will restore/bring about the level of community that has been seen in past years? Are we all willing to invest in strategies that will cross generations, cultures, social and economic differences, even the rural/urban split?

Back to what sparked this discussion and while this question already makes me squirm, it is one that we need to ask. Is the ordination of someone in a community somewhat distant from ours important enough to us to make a community statement by our involvement? While that may seem rather black and white, I think there are many shades of gray. To name just a few possibilities: would on line participation be sufficient? Do we need to look at how/when/where we do ordinations and by extension many other elements of our Anglican community life to open participation to a large number of people with widely differing understandings of community? At what level should we most seek to build community i.e. parish, deanery, diocese etc? Are there other types of events that might be more successful in building community?

My hope is to spark a discussion on a philosophical level. While Facebook can often flash with emotions and personal reactions which can at times be helpful and other times not so much, I believe a measured opportunity to discussion at a wider level might just be more fruitful in a discussion about community.

Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.

Featured photo: Tim Marshall, Unsplash