The members of the Holston Annual Conference are about to converge on Lake Junaluska Assembly.
Karoline and the kids will spend this week enjoying the ease of lake life. I’ll be in and out of Stuart Auditorium in worship and business gatherings from Sunday evening to Wednesday morning. I’m thankful that the Assembly, within the past decade, joined the rest of the twentieth century to install air conditioning in Stuart Auditorium, because it makes those long sessions considerably more bearable.
But that comfort has come at a cost that is more than financial.
Some of you will remember a day when Summer evenings were a time to escape the heat of your home into the shade of a front porch. Some of you will remember neighbors finding each other in that relatively public space, making community, developing relationships.
Before the arrival of central air at Stuart Auditorium, that same phenomenon happened in the space surrounding that old building. Families would gather in the shade of the trees around Stuart, let children run and play together, and enjoy the fellowship of an annual reunion. Members of the Annual Conference could escape outside for a respite from the heat of the Auditorium, but the business of the Conference still went on and could be heard by everyone out on the lawn. If a vote were called for, members could simply slip back inside when the time was appropriate.
I’m aware that I’m waxing a bit nostalgic for an experience I only enjoyed for two years of my personal history with the Annual Conference; and I’m aware that this might sound like I’m bemoaning the loss of community like so many churchy people long for days of yore. I don’t want to stay there, though.
I want to recognize what is lost from front-porch community, certainly, but only for the sake of seeking a way to find that community in the new environment we inhabit.
Front-porch communities afford us a number of opportunities:
knowing our neighbors
supporting each other
building and maintaining the community
You could probably name more. I’m particularly interested in the way these opportunities influence each other, and discovering how to reclaim them now.
As we sit in Stuart Auditorium, we interact a little with the people immediately around us, maybe. We who form caucuses continually message each other on the internet, reaching across the auditorium and often back into our larger communities. That puts us in conversation only with the people we choose to surround ourselves with, though.
I’m not sure the solution to reclaiming community is digital. I think there are digital tools to use, but we cannot let them define our communities entirely.
Maybe the answers are all around us, though. I’m part of a group that gathers on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and the only thing we have in common is that we run. Of course, that means we all can afford the gear and the time required to run, which excludes a pretty large demographic group. But our careers and backgrounds are diverse, so there is an opportunity to broaden community there.
What else might be opportunities that are already in place? The Farmer’s Market? Parent-teacher organizations? Ballfields and birthday parties?
Y’all are going to have to help me with this. Reclaiming our ability to have meaningful, peaceful conversations with each other; rebuilding our support systems in our larger communities; bringing people away from their social media and television screens is going to be essential to bringing peace back to our world. If we can’t find the opportunities to make that happen, to rediscover what is lost from our front-porch communities, then our divisiveness and fracturing is only going to worsen.
I need you to help me look around and find the places where that can happen. I need you to help me dream of new opportunities to build community. I need your help starting here, in our community, to find ways to rebuild our ability to be human together again.
So keep your eyes open. Keep your doors open. Keep your hearts and minds open, and I bet the Spirit will do a miraculous, transformative thing through us very soon.