Many of us understand what community is, but what does it really mean to be in a community? I recently went for a retreat conducted by the youth groups in SFX, Building Youth Communities retreat, and it was there I learnt how to build a community and also how to BE in one.
Growing up in church, I always longed to belong somewhere. That was my motivation to join the various ministries in Holy Family. I was an Altar servers and a Youth Facilitators for a time, but they were more like a ministry and did not provide me with a community that I longed for. We only met up because we had a certain purpose, a ‘function’. If there was no work to be done, there was no reason for us to meet up or interact. If it was not for the friends that were there with me, I would have left those ministries much earlier, I may have even stopped coming to church. I think that is the reason why most members of our church leave, teens after confirmation find no meaning to come every week for mass, of course they would rather spend time with their friends. Even adults that don’t have a family to accompany them will soon disappear from our pews. How then do we keep them from leaving?
I am now part of the YOUhf Community, a group of us youths that meet every Friday for praise and worship, fellowship and to share with each other our faith journey. Of course like any young community, we are far from perfect; this was what led me to search for a deeper understanding of community living.
I went to this retreat about building communities alone, ironically, as most of my friends from YOUhf were busy. I only knew a couple of faces there so I was pretty insecure at first. That feeling of being alone, not knowing who to sit with, or who to talk to, I am sure everyone can relate. Surprisingly, that feeling went away pretty quickly because the community there was so welcoming. We
experienced a little bit of what that community would on a typical weekend. We had bible sharing and fellowship together. We were also invited to one their houses for a session, we even watched a movie and ate KFC together. It was surprising how much fun I had, and how much I learnt from others like me who were struggling in their own parishes to build a community.
Through experiencing that retreat alone I realised, how important community is to a person. It brings life to a person. No man is an island, the reality is we are all human, and we desire to form connections, bonds and relationships with other people. That is when I realised that our church, our faith is not about teachings, doctrine or liturgy, they are important yes, but the core of our faith is its people and God right at its centre.
How many times have we drifted apart from groups of friends, ones we thought we would stick with for the rest of our lives. When these relationships are only held together by temporary circumstance, like school or work, time is all it takes for that friendship to fade from memory. However, when a friendship is built on a foundation so firm, like God, it can last for a lifetime. Our search for God is an eternal quest, and thus it only makes sense to hold on to companions that are on the same journey as well. No matter the distance, or whatever path life leads you, you will always go back to them. This was exactly what I observed these communities had that made them so bonded.
Community is about being there for each other, in good times and in bad. To be there to comfort someone who grieves the death of a loved one and witness the birth of a child. The same way the disciples were there to console Mother Mary during the death of Jesus, and were there to witness the rebirth, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In that way community is like a family, that last for a lifetime, and maybe even long after. It is a safe place where we all can be ourselves. It is quite unlike a club where your membership, your worth, is justified by your contributions to the group. It keeps us coming back to church, not out of obligation to do God’s will, but out of obligation to be God’s people.
Of course being in a community would not be easy. Although we do not need to contribute anything, the only requirement is to bring all of yourself, even your insecurities and emotional baggage. We usually try our best to hide these feelings of insecurities when going into a new relationship only for them to inconveniently resurface, but a Christian community flips that idea on its head. It is a place where we can be honest with ourselves, and everyone else, where we can be comfortable in our own skin. Jesus and his disciples are the best example of a Christian community, the very first. Jesus himself called people who were far from perfect to be in his ‘community’, in the same way our church should be follow in his example.
I truly believe this is what our parish needs, and should strive for, not just for the youths but for everyone who belongs to this parish. Only then can we experience fully the Holy Eucharist together, in communion with God, and with each other.