Pastoral Post 10.11.2019 | Rev. Becky Brown "What Does a Thriving Community Look Like?"

What Does a Thriving Community Look Like?

By Becky Brown

These past couple of days, I spent time in Durham, my hometown.  It was great to be back home, even though there isn’t a homeplace to return to anymore.  I was amazed at how invigorating it was to drive down familiar streets, check out the new growth of the city, and experience the flood of memories that occurred during my formative years.  It’s strange the things you remember – the gas station where I stopped to fill my car in my prom dress my senior year, a bagel shop on 9th street (that hadn’t changed) where my brother and I used to grab a quick bite on the way to school some mornings, the convalescent home where my grandmother died (across the train tracks from my high school, which was super convenient to daily visits), Duke gardens where my family used to climb a tree, picnic and play in the fields when we were young, and Duke’s campus where my childhood best friend and I used to ride our bikes all around together in the summer while her father worked on campus teaching summer English classes and prepping for the new basketball season for the Men’s team, the ease of driving through congested traffic on the highways that connect RTP to Durham and Raleigh…

It had been about 3 years since I was on campus at Duke Divinity, my alma mater, so I decided it was time to return for the annual Convocation & Pastors’ School.  The theme this year was - Life that Really is Life: Cultivating Thriving Communities.  I spent the time listening to excellent speakers share their experience with communities and their biblical and theological study of them.  There are so many thoughts swirling, and only one page to share with you.  One thing I discovered was that every community has memories and a sense of nostalgia connected to it, especially if the community is one of the past.  Communities are full of relationships with others that shape who we are, for better or for worse.  But what makes a community a thriving one?  What characterizes a thriving community, verses a stagnant or forced one?  Why does community even matter?

One of the most powerful communities I heard about was one Anne Snyder Brooks described to us called The Other Side.  It’s based in Salt Lake City and is an intentional community full of people who have experienced drug addiction or have been in prison.  75% of those who join the community “graduate” in 2 years and move out of the community with housing and a job of their own.  None of their graduates have re-offended or returned to prison.  The stories of transformation were incredibly moving and filled with hope and promise.  What made this program different from others?  What is it about this community that fosters such “success” stories?  Anne shared these important characteristics of this thriving community:

· They have a clear and strong reason for existing in the world

· There are liturgies and rituals with a creed that is affirmed/reaffirmed regularly

· There is full engagement by all members

· They address the whole person – head, heart and soul

· It is marked by healthy relationships

· They set limits on technology and the use of it within the community

· They are intentionally culturally plural – seek to encourage cross-cultural relationships

· They seek growth

· They are marked by vulnerability and accountability – sometimes brutal honesty

· They have processes for reflection of their community participation


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