September 22nd Sunday Service Message: The Art of Community

Strengthen your sense of community by giving of yourself

What is a community?  What does it mean to be part of a community?  An upstanding member of a community?  A pillar of the community?  In this fourth and final lesson in the series Expanding Our Circle of Community, Rev. Joanne explains that for each of us, as we enter, grow and prosper within a community, the focus moves from “what’s in it for me,” to “what’s in it from me.”

Each of us attends Unity Spiritual Center for our own reasons.  Some may include:  the Sunday message, upliftment, friendship, conversation, acceptance, and spiritual growth.  It is a good thing for us to embrace receiving the benefits of the open and loving environment from our community.  These things are often as strongly felt after forty years as they are on day one.

At some point in our lives, we have all been the new kid on the block.  This can be taken quite literally, if your family moved from one neighborhood to another when you were a child, or from one city to another.  If you have ever changed jobs, you may have felt like an outsider, at first.  Depending on the environment of the block where you live or the company you work for, the time it may take to move from outsider to feeling welcome may vary.

Here at Unity Spiritual Center, most of us that attend now, and in the past, were not raised within the congregation.  That means there was a day at USC when we were “the new kid on the block.”  Do you remember how that felt?  If you have only begun attending USC within the past few weeks or months, you probably do remember how you felt that first Sunday, and may still feel that way now.

Of course, the welcoming atmosphere within a spiritual community should endeavor to be conscious of being as open and accepting of everyone who walks through our doors, regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identification.  I have been attending Unity Spiritual Center for fourteen years, and I do in fact still remember the first Sunday I set foot inside our doors.  The greeters were genuinely friendly and welcoming.  One of those people has since passed away, and the other is still within our community greeting new friends and old in the same enthusiastic and loving way.

A very large part of the reason I decided to come back to USC the next week was because of the open arms atmosphere.  Nevertheless, I was perhaps slower than some to fully integrate within the group.  For about the first six months, it was my habit to arrive 5 minutes before service, and leave immediately following.  I did not engage in fellowship, educational opportunities, or volunteering.  During all that time, never was I made to feel “less than” or pressured to do anything I did not want to do.

I began participating more with the simple act of staying after service for a cup of coffee and chatting for 15 minutes.  It was one of my better decisions.  Getting to know so many kind and intelligent people is never a bad choice, and now fourteen years later USC is an integral part of my life.

Rev. Joanne shares with us a wonderful example of what some may see as the most selfless description of what it means to be part of a community.  Belgian ethnologist, naturalist, and humanitarian Jean-Pierre Hallet (1927-2004) was working with some Xhosa children of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa.  He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that who ever got there first won the sweet contents.  When it was time to run, Jean-Pierre noticed that they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat enjoying their treats.  When he asked them why they had run like that, since one could have had all the fruits for themselves, they said: Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?  Ubuntu in the Xhosa culture means “I am because we are.”  We should all have such an outlook.  How great would that be?

Can we at Unity Spiritual Center reach such a state of higher consciousness?  In many ways, we already have.  Rev. Joanne mentioned that last year the Board of Trustees honored more than 100 people at the annual Sacred Service dinner.  Each of the people honored gave of their time, talent, and treasure to contribute to the welfare of USC.  These people understand the concept of giving of themselves.  Why did these people decide to participate, and in what ways?

There are many factors that determine the hows and whys of greater participation.  One reason may be that it is satisfying to know we are helping others.  Another is that we ourselves have received from the community and now we want to return the kindness.  It is true that a community must provide something to its members in order for them to want to remain.  However, it is also true that for a community to remain vibrant, active and thriving, it relies on the actions of individuals.  As influential American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910) said, “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”  It is a symbiotic relationship.

The Our Circle of Community series started by discussing the Art of Intimacy - how and what it means to develop emotional, intellectual, physical, experiential and spiritual intimacy.  The next week we talked about the Art of Sharing – techniques for opening our hearts to another and speaking our truth.  Last week we discussed the Art of Listening – ways that we can be fully present for another person by giving them our full attention.  All of these things contribute to the building of a healthy community, spiritual or otherwise.

The most important thing we can do as individual members of our community is to love, honor, and respect whomever we encounter.  This does not mean that we must agree with everything others say, or frankly, even like everyone we meet.  These are impossible standards.  What it does mean, however, is that by speaking our truth, and honestly listening when others are speaking theirs, we can indeed move toward Ubuntu.  Did all of those Xhosa children like each other?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  To them that was irrelevant, because they understood the Art of Community.

Scripture:

Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.  Matthew 18:20

Spiritual Practice:

This week, pay attention to how you show up in spiritual community.  To whom can you extend understanding, compassion, and forgiveness?  How can you practice the principles we learn when you experience a challenge with another person in community?  How can you move more deeply into ownership of community?

As a current member of the Unity Spiritual Center Board of Trustees, I am involved in helping to set the strategic direction of USC and participate directly in many of the actual tactical activities to work toward keeping our community healthy and happy.  Each of us has a certain amount of time we can allot to participating.  Even if a person has only the time on Sunday mornings available to contribute, it costs no extra money and no extra time to smile, say hello, and introduce oneself to someone they do not know.  If you can provide more time, talent, and treasure to our community, that is wonderful too.

In addition to my direct participation in many activities at USC, I feel that what is mine to do now is to be a more active listener and make personal connections with people.  In what ways will you work to deepen your sense of community? 

Greg Skuderin