If someone asked, "Do you live in a good place?" we would all say, "Absolutely! Spencer is a fantastic community, for a whole variety of reasons." We enjoy excellent quality of life, outstanding schools, great businesses, good employment opportunities, high-quality civic leadership, numerous service clubs, good churches, and good opportunities for youth and adult recreation. All of us could add to this list of high praise, reasons we are glad and proud to say, "I live in Spencer."
But what makes a good community "good?" Further, what type of community would we aspire to be?
The late Henri Nouwen, the fine Roman Catholic theologian, writer, and pastor wrote, "The word 'community' has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naiveté. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (see Philippians 2:4). The question, therefore, is not "How can we make community?" but "How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?"
As a leader of one of the Christian congregations in this community, I hope every church can say, "We are not in competition, but cooperation." I desire everyone to be connected to one of our "faith communities," but I have no presumption that everyone should be a part of the church I call my spiritual home. I do pray that everyone connects to a body of believers with whom they can worship and serve God. We are not meant to journey alone.
I return to Nouwen's wise words. "We are alive not for ourselves, but for one another." A great community begins not with infrastructure, or features which are offered, or business climate. Rather, a great community begins with a "quality of the heart" - giving hearts willing to consider the needs of others before ourselves.
To do that, I need the Spirit's love filling me. Pray with me that we can be filled with the Spirit's love, so that we are willing to live "for one another."