Saturday, April 30, 2016

Challenge and Gift of Community

I had the privilege of addressing the national gathering of vocation and formation directors in Canada this past week. It was an opportunity to gather with my new colleagues as I myself take my first steps in vocation and formation ministry. It was also an opportunity to share what I have learned about religious life and the challenge of inviting and welcoming new members to our communities.

Risk, community and transition were major themes that seemed to strike a cord in those who participated. In order to invite and welcome newcomers to our communities, we have to be willing to move out of our comfort zones, to change and open our hearts and our houses.

Sr. Pat Wittberg, a sociologist of religion, talks about the qualities of vibrant communities. We as communities have a tendency to settle down, to get comfortable. This in itself is a good thing. However, it has a dark side. When we have been together in a local community for 3-5 years, we loose the social capacity to welcome newcomers into our communities.

We may view this in terms of the terms for the stages of formation of a community.
  • Forming - when a community first comes together - the honeymoon period when all is fresh and new
  • Storming - when a community starts to run into the inevitable challenges of life together. Our different styles and personal foibles begin to weigh on each other.
  • Norming - when we begin to address our differences and find ways of navigating them with fairness and integrity.
  • Performing - when we settle into a more or less comfortable routine
  • Adjourning - when we bring the community to closure, or leave the community.
  • Long-terming - I would add this stage - it is when a community has been together for more than 3-5 years and gets too comfortable, loosing the sociological capacity for change and welcoming newcomers.
    Newcomers in community are generally in communities for just a year or two. They are in the forming, storming and norming stages. Often they move on to the next phase of formation, in another house, before they have the opportunity to get into performing. In addition, we sometimes place newcomers into communities that are in the long-terming stage, communities that have settled quite comfortably already.
Let's think about opening spaces of mutuality and support in our communities so that we can welcome newcomers. Let's take this opportunity to form, storm and norm anew. Let's see the challenge of change, and welcome it as an opportunity to renew ourselves as a community. Our newest brother or sister can give us an amazing gift - let's not miss the grace of this moment. 


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