When Did You First Know You Needed Community?

By Wren Bellavance-Grace

From above, seven people hold hands around a table before eating.

We are a species wired for connection, for collaboration, for community; various fields of study have affirmed and documented this. But when did you know it? Maybe you were fortunate to grow up in a country, a culture, a church, a home where community was as central an element as water and air. You wouldn’t survive without any of these, and fortunately you never lacked for them either.

I did not grow up in one of those places. I grew up as a white person in a late-20th century capitalist country that taught me that all I needed were bootstraps. Individualism was prized and rewarded over community.

My childhood church taught me what not to do if I wanted to get myself into heaven, but never helped me imagine creating heaven on earth. It never made me feel part of a community with shared purpose; we were all just on our own trying not to slip off the righteous path.

I first discovered Community when I came out as an emerging adult. I was welcomed into queer circles of care and connection. It happened to be at the same time that AIDS was also emerging. We each did what we could: nursed brothers through brutal illnesses; held lovers through grief; shared food; stitched quilts; shouted in the streets. Each of us contributed as we could, relied on each other, built the community we needed.

That’s when I first really understood that I was not in this life alone; that I was indeed wired for community. That I needed the shared purpose, and partnership, and belonging, the joy and the challenges of building and sustaining community. I’ve been seeking and building it ever since. It’s also the lens through which I see our work with - and in - congregations.

I’ve been so very lucky to serve with a team here in the New England Region of our UUA that has functioned as a community of growth, learning, practice, and support. One of my colleagues here introduced me to the work of the late teacher Malidoma Somé, who wrote:

Without community you cannot be yourself. The community is where we draw the strength needed to effect changes inside of us. What one acknowledges in the formation of the community is the possibility of doing together what is impossible to do alone.

I have come to believe these words so deeply. Without community, you cannot be yourself. We are built for connection and collaboration - how could we possibly know ourselves in isolation? We need the reflection and formation process that happens in community to understand ourselves and discern our gifts. Our congregations can be communities of faith and practice where we call one another to do our inner work; to continue to grow, stretch, and be open to new and unfolding truths.

Community is where we draw the strength needed to effect changes inside of us. Community asks us to be confident enough to deliver our gifts for the well being of all, and invites us into the humility to ask for and receive the gifts others will bring us. Our congregations can be communities of faith and practice where we support each other in doing the inner work needed to grow and change; to make repair when we have caused harm, and to take faithful risks to bring Beloved Community closer.

What might become possible if you had a community of practice to learn, share, and grow with? How might having a space to practice with like-hearted faithful colleagues and friends deepen your sense of belonging in your congregation? Hone your gifts? Sharpen your sense of purpose? Spark your imagination?

We have two learning and growing communities you can join in the new year!

Our new Liberating Practices learning community is a combination of the Spiritual Leadership for Culture Change and Liberating Governance learning communities and will meet roughly once a month.

The Contexts Learning Community is for exploration of how we meet this particular moment, especially ministry to younger generations.

Discover - or remember - the strength, necessity, and gifts of community. Register at the links below, and set your intention to lean into COMMUNITY in 2024!

  • Contexts Learning Community - for congregations seeking deeper exploration into the dynamics at play for younger people interested in living lives of faith. Next meeting: January 17th.
  • Liberating Practices - to explore practices that move our congregations toward liberation and beloved community. Next meeting: January 23rd.

About the Author

Wren Bellavance-Grace

Wren works with the New England Region team to support congregations across New England with particular experience in Safer Congregations, faith formation, and spiritual leadership.

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