The thing I most miss from parish ministry is the sense of being part of a community. It is particularly a loss during the seasons of Lent and Advent, when there is a feeling, as a parish priest, of walking alongside a community during a season of preparation - and then at Easter and Christmas celebrating with that same group of people the joy of arrival.
We all need community, however the more we move to different parts of the country, or into a different sphere of leadership, that community gets more and more dispersed. It then becomes more of an effort to gather people, to keep in touch and to have any meaningful relationship with them. Hence the use of Facebook for people to stay in contact and share the journey.
I often ask the question - where and who is my community, and it am often asked it. The different congregation each Sunday is something, especially now I know people,; the sisters at Burnham Abbey are part of my extended community, as are the people I work with more regularly or live among.
Last nights attempt at building community gathered a number of people for mulled wine and mince pies at The Rectory. In someway it was a disparate group of people, their only apparent connection was that they knew me. However as they got chatting and shared stories and experiences there were numerous connections happening. Clergy who did not know one another, those who lived in close proximity, those who only met occasionally and formally, those recently retired or had never met their spouses colleagues before. It was a chance for busy clergy to attend something, rather than make it happen, for locals to meet people a bit further afield and for those who worked alone to meet others.
Whether we have a ready made one or not, all community building takes time and effort. Investment in people and in bringing them together, for true community is not a self-serving thing, it is connecting others, creating the bigger picture and broadening the vision. It is not being part of the sum that counts, but the sum of all the parts, whoever and wherever those parts may be.
What if...we all spent some time community building this Christmas?