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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

when is 'community' community?

Monday, April 10, 2006

At the beginning of 2004, 'Dream in Liverpool City' (then simply 'Dream') took the decision to step back from organising monthly labour-intensive altworship 'events' in city centre bars to focus on building genuine community. Prior to this we'd been gathering anywhere between 40 and 70 people on the first Thursday evening of each month, including several who had little or no prior contact with the 'Church'. However, we were aware that, despite the event having the appearance of being succesful, there was little or no relationship building going on - people came with a bunch of mates and stayed with those same mates. What's more (and I guess this was a bigger 'problem') the core group of about half a dozen people, who had been meeting regularly as a community for a year before starting Dream and had given birth to the vision, had become nothing more than a frantic planning group for the next Dream service, so running out of energy, inspiration and ideas. During a Dream event we would spend all night running around to make sure the increasingly ambitious services went smoothly rather than chatting to the people who came, and when we met outside of the Dream services it was with a tight agenda to plan the next one. We weren't building community... or were we?

Zygmunt Bauman, in 'Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World', outlines two types of contemporary community. Dream as described above could arguably be identified as Bauman's 'aesthetic' community, with the altworship service being the 'peg' around which we gathered. In line with Bauman's description of such communities, there were no ties or obligations being formed for those who were coming - they could simply peg into the event and then forget about Dream until the following month (although this was not the case for the core planning group). Indeed, this may have been the attraction for many of those who came along to Dream.

Now, two years on from the decision, Dream in Liverpool City looks much more like Bauman's 'ethical' community - a small group of 6-10 people who meet more regularly for worship (still creative and open, closely identifyable with what might be termed 'altworship') as well as some social events. It's now feels more like a community, in the sense of members knowing each other better, supporting each other in the faith journey, and forming ties outside the gathered events.

All of this begs the question... is the Dream of 2006 better than the Dream of 2004? Is community more authentic now? How do we determine what is and what isn't community? Was the aesthetic community of 2004 a pretence of community, or was it authentic in a different way?

Steve Taylor has a great chapter on this in 'The Out of Bounds Church', where he argues that in an age of spiritual tourism both of Bauman's community types are essential to our missiology. He writes that in some sense, the church is both peg and ethical - "The love of God demands ethical discipleship within an ethical community. The love of God offers a place to gently explore that love in a peg community." (page 129)

But is the aesthetic without the ethical genuine community? What about virtual internet communities? Acts 2:44-47 may give us reason to argue for the primacy of ethical community but does this render other types of community substandard or even worthless? Do we have a 'meta-narrative' of community or can we accept all forms (virtual and physical, permanent and transitory) as equally valid? When is 'community' community?

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 4:21 PM


Or maybe we need to ask 'What is community?'

Kat - here via Richard's blog :-)

commented by Blogger Kat, 11:36 PM  

Indeed Kat - the six-million-dollar question!

wikipedia have an interesting entry on community, which has created a debate and a call for a total rewrite!

In any case, the opening definition is a good starting point: "What characterizes a community is sharing interaction in many ways. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs and a multitude of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the degree of adhesion within the mixture, but the definitive driver of community is that all individual subjects in the mix have something in common."

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:01 AM  

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