Die mees treffende oomblik vir my tydens laas naweek se ASM konferensie was Sherry Maddock se aanbieding oor die verhaal van Communality, ‘n gestuurde gemeente inisiatief in Lexington (Kentucky, VSA). Wat veral treffend is van hoe Sherry die verhaal vertel, is die integrasie van trinitariese teologie met vlees-en-bloed verhoudinge en die intriges van ‘n spesifieke plek. In haar verhaal is daar nie sprake van ‘n ideologie, ‘n model of resep, ‘n lynregte etiese navolging, duidelike strategiee, of die romantisering van gemeenskap nie – slegs die realiteit van ‘n vertroue op God se teenwoordigheid en aktiwiteit deur middel van verhoudinge en te midde van die alledaagse lewe van ‘n doodgewone gemeenskap en plek. Ek wil haar graag self aan die woord stel, en dit so volledig moontlik doen, al is dit ‘n bietjie langer stuk om te lees as gewoonlik (ek het dit net hier en daar met ‘n paar paragraaf of twee gesny):
“When I asked Roberta what we should do, she said to me ‘Well, we’ll have to take it one relationship at a time.’” Roberta and I had just crossed a threshold, passed through a gate from the neighborhood garden into an adjacent historic cemetery. It was the end of a long day and we were cleaning up tools from planting all kinds of berry bushes the urban orchard. As soon as we were through the gate, she said to me “you know, I’ve lived in this neighborhood all my life and I’ve never stepped foot on this property. We weren’t allowed here.”
Two years ago, Geoff and I initiated a project to put a community garden in an empty green space a block from our house. It was a place we passed by every day and its wide-open potential called out to us. The desire for a community garden was birthed out of personal encounters in our backyard garden when we met neighbors and shared our produce. We live as missionaries in a low-income, historically African American neighborhood in downtown Lexington. Living next to an apartment building, it didn’t take us long to recognize that not everyone had the privilege of land and a place to grow food, especially in our urban context. As we thought about a community garden, we also imagined that a shared space of growing food would get neighbor next to neighbor and introduce fresh organic produce into a place classified by sociologists as a food desert. What we didn’t about was the long, regrettable history of the place around us.
The grounds of what is now a community garden and the historic cemetery next door are owned by an old, prestigious Episcopal church. From the time the cemetery was established in the early 1800s, it was off-limits to the freed slaves and later residents who settled nearby. Neighbors knew they weren’t welcome and a stark separation of black and white stood for almost 200 years.
When we proposed to the church this idea of a community garden, one with small allotment-style plots for nearby residents, it was received with enthusiasm because, as we came to find out, it was part of an answer to the church’s recent commitment to racial reconciliation within the East End. This garden offered an unexpected opportunity for the church to break with its past, and by opening the gates to those living around it, forge new relationships across socio-economic and racial boundaries.
One relationship at a time…when Roberta and I walked through that gate a few months ago, I felt like something small, but very real, changed in the cosmos. She’s a fifty year African American woman, mother, grandmother, a neighbor, and now a friend. I am a younger white woman from somewhere else.
The garden brought us together – what beautiful experience of recapitulation.
We planted seeds and watered them. We put in raspberry bushes and learned more of each other’s stories. Together we crossed over a dehumanizing barrier that had spanned her lifetime. In my conversation with Roberta that day, when I acknowledged and lamented the segregated history of that place, her answer of how to move forward was so simple and profound – one relationship at a time.
It is this newly-born, boundary-crossing relationship with Roberta that is generated by a missionary commitment to dwell in the daily life of a place.
In our life together in this small missional community called Communality, we are learning a lot. More than anything else, I think I now recognize after 10 years, that reality, God’s kingdom reality, and mission are built and based on relationship –
· Relationship with a Triune God
· Relationship with one another – in the world and in the church
· Relationship to the place around us
In the early years of Communality, we worked hard, applying the tools and training of missionaries to our local context. We studied demographics and ethnographies and asked questions about the language, the people, and the place – who hasn’t heard the good news of Jesus, who’s left out in this city. We looked closely at the place around us and learned as missionaries do and we spent a lot of time on the streets. We oriented ourselves outward and cleansed ourselves of the urges to organize neat, tight programs and build something centralized that would have to be maintained.
With time our numbers grew, but not by very much.
We are a small group of people, 25 maybe 50 at best.
We belong to the tribe of new monastic communities.
Although we have no strict geographic boundaries in our community, we do live near each other, and often we live with one another.
Communality has no common purse, like some sister new monastic groups, but we share our resources as needed.
We meet weekly, on Sunday evenings and continue to experiment with the practice of the “priesthood of all believers.” There is no minister or pulpit.
We do our best to be committed to the ethics of
And an outwardly-oriented life
In our midst, God has created a new kind of family
In mission together, we discover (as we’ve learned from our theological mentor and friend, Mary Fisher) our triune God is a God who creates space – at a table and in a garden. Through relationship, this space-creating God makes all things new.
Our work as missionaries is based on relationship and we join God in what God’s already up to.
Our efforts are framed by a quotidian rhythm of dwelling in the daily life of a place.
As an organization, we do not have a mission statement or a written agreed-upon purpose. We hold to a set of shared convictions, six commitments of our life together:
1) God’s mission of blessing is for all people in all places
2) We find our purpose in participating in the mission of God
3) Mission comes before the church
4) Community comes before congregation
5) Grounded community – we are a placed people
6) We attempt to live out the priesthood of all believers
…and after many years, we are still working out what these mean.
From our decade together, we’ve learned to live in the mode of action/reflection. We are learning to trust one another and imagine a future together, bound by mission in a specific place.
As missionaries in North America, we are bridges between the church and the world.
Our experiences in mission are diverse, with work that
· spans refugee resettlement and serving the homeless
· caring for those with addictions and friends with mental illness
· We’ve backed environmental initiatives that oppose the devastating practice of mountain top removal in our region
· and supported living wage campaigns and affordable housing projects
· We educating ourselves about the possibilities and goodness of a local economy and we labor in community gardens for the sake of food justice and reconciliation with creation.
We read Scripture with a missional hermeneutic and often disagree.
With intentional effort, we’ve cultivated an acute skill of being good students of our culture, living with a sharp awareness of the world around us – locally, nationally, globally. We are driven to ask questions about the state of this world that God so loves.
Together we are residents of a place and we are just beginning to uncover the meaning of that, and we find that every covenant in Scripture includes God, people, and a place.
Our understanding of fidelity and perseverance is expanding and deepening, mostly by the grace of God.
Over ten years, home has been redefined for us and claimed back by God’s creative kingdom purposes. We find that a continuum of integrity must stretch from our kitchen tables to city council.
We live, convinced of these words from Kentucky’s poet and prophet, Wendell Berry, who writes of God’s economy , claiming it is one that
“does not leave anything out, and we can say without presuming too much that the first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of every sparrow is a significant event.”
Through much experimentation, we work together to integrate every aspect of our life to serve God’s purposes in mission – the social, political, economic, environmental, spiritual, and physical elements as people, residents and followers of Jesus in Lexington, Kentucky.
With the Living Spirit of God in us, repeatedly we are challenged to have the courage to be co-creators and innovators because in mission, we live in the presence of the transformative power of the gospel.
Together, we walk against the raging stream of hypermobility, rootlessness, independence and individualism that so thoroughly characterizes our culture.
We are dwelling in the daily life of a place.
After 10 years, we’ve made plenty of mistakes from which an abiding humility is given as a gift.
But many good and beautiful things have happened too.