Here at the outset of 2020, it seems that a good deal of my energy this year will be devoted to several projects focused on helping churches deepen their congregational life …
As I’ve been preparing for these projects, I’ve compiled this reading list on some of the most essential thinkers who guide us into the work of deepening our congregational life together in our local churches. I chosen to focus on authors/thinkers rather than books because most of these authors have written more than one relevant book.
Jean Vanier, is not only the founder of the L’Arche communities that reflect the compassion of Christ in their care for the disabled, He also has written a number of important books on Christian community. Two are especially worthy of mention here. The former is his landmark work on Christian community; the latter is a good and very brief introductory work that illuminates his perspective on Christian community.
This Vanier classic is a brilliant series of starting points for reflection on the nature and meaning of community. For example, Vanier writes that our communities should be signs of joy and celebration. If we are accepted with our limitations as well as our abilities, our communities gradually become places of liberation, fruitfulness and fecundity.
Writing in a deeply compassionate way, Vanier says that a community grows like a child. “Each of us is on a journey – the journey of life. Each one of us is a pilgrim on the road. The period of human growth from the time we are infants in our mother’s womb to the day of our death, is both very long and very short. And this growth is set between two frailties – the weakness of the tiny child and that of the person who is dying.” Community therefore is founded on frailty. Wisely, Vanier calls us to be in touch with our vulnerabilities as individuals and as a community.
A community is also founded on the trust shared by its members, and for the process of growth. He speaks of the “gift” and the “anti-gift” within community. There are people who come as “saviours”. They have the intelligence to understand and sometimes exploit the failings of community. They are attractive; they talk well. They tend to want to do their own thing and prove their points. If a person comes into community with this state of mind, it will be a disaster for them and the community: an anti-gift.
Vanier speaks eloquently of the lessons he has learned from L’Arche. He speaks of his own healing and his own need for people. He speaks of the power of belonging and how it satisfies the deepest needs in people. Vanier does not romanticize community. For him, community is a place of struggle, conflict and confrontation. Community is a place where the ego dies, a place of surrender. However it is also a place of celebration, joy and ultimately of human fulfillment. For Vanier, community is a place where we encounter God: God is present in the poverty and wounds of our hearts. God is not just present in the capacity to heal but rather in the need to be healed.