This blog is by guest Tyler Coles.
Like many who grew up in the rolling hills of the Appalachian Mountains, I always found autumn a welcome relief following the tedious days of summer. The cool temperatures and falling leaves form a picturesque memory in my mind as my friends and I would take part in one of our favorites activities – building forts. As we would wander through the woods just beyond our neighborhood, we would assemble crude structures with whatever materials we would come across. Sometimes the work of creation would be easy. Yet, more often, our work required copious amounts of time and energy as we gathered materials that would aid in our fort’s longevity and stability.
In the dense forests of poplar, oak and elm, the options for building materials were endless. In this abundance we would be meticulous in what we would include as each piece had to connect in the most perfect of ways. Since those early years I can see the forces of both playfulness and meticulousness working themselves out as we constructed. Holding in tandem these often opposing forces I have started to ask myself, “What am I building? And how am I building it?” I have found these questions useful as they guide me to be both intentional and abundantly creative.
Since joining the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (Oakton, VA) as the Young Adult Community Leader, I have used these questions to envision and call into being what could lie ahead for us. The task of co-creating an innovative young adult (18-35+) community beyond the walls of the Church starts small and intentionally, much like selecting the perfect branch from which to form a childhood fort. Like those forts, this space invites us to live out our values in relationship to ourselves, each other and the greater world in playful and joyful ways.
So how are we going about the doing of this work? Like all things, it starts with taking the time to meet people towards getting to know them. Through conversations over coffee or during brunch I listen for the most pressing matters that they carrying at the time. In these conversations I have learned that there is a deep desire to be in relationship with others, to explore and develop spiritual practice, and to actively make justice and peace in the community. I have inquired how and in what spaces they would like to do these things. The resounding response – it must be flexible and light as schedules are already jammed packed!
Currently we are tinkering with a combination of small circles, large group gathers, and opportunities to “skill-up” around things any young person in the 21st century needs to know (like applying for Health Care or paying taxes). The frequency and location of these gatherings are being left to the discernment of those who will take part in them. Some might be bi-weekly or monthly, others could be one-offs or occur about every six weeks. There is opportunity and interest in gathering in a number of spaces like people’s living rooms, coffee shops, open fields, and community centers. Whatever the case may be, it is in my role to offer up time, support, imagination, and access to financial resources that have been gifted to our collective through a generous bequeath.
Yet it is important to note that in talking with other spirit-based community organizers, while money most certainly makes things easier. It is in the desire, creativity, and dedication to seeing a covenant-community conjured into reality that makes all of this just that, a reality. This work will be messy, even complicated at times, stirring within us moments of anxiety. Yet in forming connection, generating meaning, and doing the work of right relationship we can move through those moments in boldly compassionate ways.
It is my hope that we might craft a new way of doing the old work of church (i.e. community) in the here and now. If you are, or know, a young adult in northern Virginia who might be interested, please feel free to reach out to me! Come, let us dream and build together a fort that will hold all of us in this moment.
In Faith & Resistance,
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