Vision as Community

“Vision as Community,” Susan Ryder

Matthew 18:20
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Romans 12:4-5
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

Rabbi Zoë Klein – Part of the core value of how we treat each other in a sacred community is how we welcome others, not only those from outside our community, but those within our community as well. Each and every action that we perform, overtly or covertly, has to say: you are welcome here.

The Low Road – by Marge Piercy
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

During our time considering what it means to be a people of vision, we have so far focused on individual or personal vision – which, to be fair, is where many visions begin. But it’s also important to spend some time considering corporate or community vision. We all have different opinions and priorities that are important to us – visions which call to us in our daily lives. But whether it’s a neighborhood association, congregation, or bridge club, groups endeavor to have a common vision, that can either compete with or support the visions we maintain as individuals.

In the early days of NCC, for instance, the shared vision of our founding members and early settlers was to offer a welcoming and progressive Christian community to Bloomington / Normal – one that valued spiritual searching over religious certainty. NCC saw itself an alternative to traditional Christianity, a place where you could enter without checking your brains at the door, as some have described it; a place where we, and our children, could hear the stories of our faith, as well as those stories from other traditions, as truth instead of fact, metaphor over literal interpretation; where everyone would be welcome regardless of race, nationality, religion, age, socio-economic status, shape, size, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Over the past almost 27 years, that original vision has remained constant, and of course, complementary visions have arisen as contributions from individual members and subgroups. Commitment to social justice and mission, working to be the change we want to see in the world, are part of our common values. We have participated in and supported the work of groups like Illinois People’s Action and the West Bloomington Revitalization Project, as well as sponsorship of a local refugee family for the past couple of years. Our vision for justice and equality has been fired up more than usual the past couple of years – both individually and communally – and continues to be cornerstone of who we are. We strive to be intentional about balancing our introspection and self-care with attending to the needs of others in the local and global community. As a congregation we try our best to balance the spiritual nurturing of ourselves with concern for others beyond these walls.

As we strive to continue in our time what Jesus began in his, working for the healing of our world as an inclusive, compassionate, and joyful community for the next 27 or more years, that balance will be important to remember, especially in a few months as we conclude the most recent discernment process about the best place for us to continue our ministry well into the future. As our congregation ages and we look for ways to invite and welcome new people and families, we are asking ourselves whether this building or another location would better suit our vision. We don’t have a crystal ball to tell us the answer, so consideration of our collective vision has been an important part of the process the Steering Committee has been reflecting on for the past 16 months

This kind of decision making is not easy in a group with so many different opinions, and people are not shy about sharing them. Add to that there are many possible ways to be right. So perhaps some pre-emptive thinking about community will serve us well in the coming months as we consider our options and make a decision for the sake of a common vision. As we move forward, we must make decisions about our literal place in the community based on a consensus about our figurative place in the community. Our space needs should be informed by the direction of our mission. There are many possible manifestations of sacred intention that can be realized by this congregation – each has its own legitimacy.  And though no congregation can be all things to all people, we are resourceful and creative enough to accomplish much together. The many ways in which central Illinois is better off for our being here, and the many gifts we can still contribute to healing in this little corner of the world, have much more to do with our imagination than our address. Additionally, we can only love and serve others to the extent that we can love one another in the day to day routines of being in community.

Conflict is inevitable, and respectful disagreement ought to be welcomed as an opportunity to strengthen our bonds and enhance our abilities for ministry to the neighborhood and world in which we live. That said, winning or losing must not be our goal, but to find the best resources to be of service and care for one another in the process. The more the process becomes about winners and losers, the more we all lose no matter what the final decision may be. Our life in community is the crucible by which we transform faith from abstract concepts into living realities. Experiences such as love, generosity, collaboration, forbearance and forgiveness are only nice hypotheticals until we are forced to practice them in the close proximity of personal agendas and dwindling budgets. As we consider the challenges and opportunities of locating ourselves, it is important to remember that the address from which we live out our vision will never be as important as the vision itself. The commodity that helps us perpetuate this ministry isn’t where we are, it’s who we are.  The address of our congregation is wherever we congregate. NCC isn’t about geography; NCC is us.

Being part of any community comes with a responsibility for both forbearance and self-restraint. So I owe it to the groups that lend structure and meaning to my life to practice a certain amount of deference for the good of the cause while also speaking my truth. Like each of you, I have my own inclinations, some of which are quite thoughtful and wise, and some which are driven by my own insecurities or ego, which can be counterproductive to the well-being of a group. Everyone has their own preferences, and we all owe each other to practice discipline of self-restraint and good judgment. Essential to being part of any community is the ability to cultivate a vision that views the world through our collective needs and aspirations as well as on individual needs and preferences.The experience of community is what helps us to shape those abilities in the first place, and help remind us we are all in the same boat together, not drifting alone at sea.

Krandall Kraus
We . . . [are] . . . lucky we have each other to hold onto in this rocking boat. Lucky we believe in things deeper than flesh, thinner than air. Like good intention. Like hope.
Together, in our tiny skiff we sail, we navigate by the Evening Star.
Faithful, we wait for some sign we have arrived at journey’s end—
. . . . and—when there are no stars to guide us— We have . . . each other’s eyes.