Maintaining the Beloved Community

Shannon Harper

Summer is a glorious season. Traditionally it’s sold as a leisure time, a time to relax, enjoy yourself, get outdoors and have some fun. But anyone who has ever had children in or around their lives knows summer can actually be even more work – scheduling, planning, coordinating and entertaining – than the rest of the year. And whether because of travel or change in routine or just wanting to enjoy some extra lazing hours on cool Sunday mornings, many of us find our church attendance slipping during the summer months. But the beautiful part about beloved community is it calls us to practice our values beyond the limitations of Sunday mornings in the sanctuary. When I reflect on what keeps me coming back to my congregation in the fall, ready to re-commit, pouring our sacred water in covenant, I think about the relationships I’ve formed there. These bonds have not only expanded my own world, they’ve tied me to the congregation as a whole.

If “othering” or seeing persons or groups of people as somehow “different” or not “fitting in” is one of the stumbling blocks of beloved community then relationship is the jackhammer that breaks it down. I see this happen all the time in youth communities like Goldmine and Midwest Leadership Schools. We take teenagers from many different backgrounds with many different personalities and ways of being in the world and ask them to basically live and learn together for a week. During our time together we build covenant, play games, learn technical skills like how to plan a worship service or lead a meeting and even have some fun and insightful history and theology lessons. But the real magic is in the work we do together. Physical work like cooking and cleaning, gardening and taking care of our temporary home. Challenging work like creating a worship service and receiving feedback. And spiritual work like reflection and deep sharing. That work, done side by side and collaboratively, builds relationships that see them through not just the challenges and tests of the week but for many of them into young adulthood and beyond. It turns a bunch of teenagers who were apprehensive and nervous at the beginning of the week – who said they came to Leadership School because it would look good on their college applications or because their parent/minister/DRE made them – into family. The Group – the friendships – were now the reason they were there and why they didn’t want to leave.

Congregational life also gives us many opportunities for building the relationships that bond us to one another in community. And we can create even more connections on our own. This summer make some new friends in your congregation, invite someone over to your home for dinner, arrange a family playdate at a local park, spend time weeding each others gardens, or preserving your bounty together; build a shed, paint a fence, teach a new driver how to do minor maintenance on their car; coordinate a group trip to a local destination or a carpool to the library or shopping center. There are so many ways to spend time together in more personal ways. Nurturing authentic relationships that build solidarity and break down walls within our faith communities seems like the perfect summer homework during the season of leisure!

Shannon Harper, CER Youth and Young Adult Coordinator

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