Tuesday 9 October 2007

Lessons in Community

This afternoon I managed to get away to a coffeeshop for an hour to do some studying. I'm on the last leg of my (procrastinated) distance learning degree in Theology. All I have to work on now is my dissertation. I've chosen for my subject, 'What does it mean to be a community church in the 21st Century?' No doubt you'll hear more about this between now and the February deadline.

So I sat at my preferred table at the back with a latte and a four berry muffin and worked my way through a stack of books, dipping in here and there for sections that would be helpful to return to and read more fully. At one point I stopped what I was doing and looked around at the other cafe dwellers - this is why I have a preferred table - and noticed an interesting phenomenon. Almost all the tables were occupied, but it was all people on their own. What was more interesting was that everyone had sat on the side of their table where they could face everyone else. No one had their back turned to another.

So as I and my company sat there reading books, doing newspaper crosswords, texting, and drinking coffee I was struck by the question, why are we here? (Not an existentialist examination of life of course. I'm talking about our presence in the coffeeshop). Everything that was individually going on within that space could have easily been done elsewhere in complete solitude.

I wondered if what I was experiencing was a desire for community. Perhaps, collectively, we sensed some sort of connection with one another, a common act of being together and drinking coffee, a type of communion - all be it a false, unrealised one.

I wondered if there were others present who, like me, would have been happy to put down their book/newspaper/phone to interact and talk about something. Anything! But that would have taken effort.

So I learned my first (obvious) lesson about community without reading it in a book, but experiencing it in life: in order for community to occur it needs more than just desire. It needs inertia.


St said...

One of the most difficult skills to master is being able to communicate 'I am up for a conversation' without starting it by butting in and spoiling someone else's solitude.

I tend to do what you do quite a lot but every half hour or so stop, breath and go round the other occupants of the bar/cafe looking for eye contact. If I get it I just offer a quick smile. Sometimes a conversation starts. Sometimes you both share a moments understanding of the breather and go back to work (but next time you see that person you've earned the right to ask how they are as you walk in becasue you recognise them).

When you do your community church writign I'd love to now, if you get to it, what you think has become of the relationship between community and parish boundaries in 2007.

All power to your typing fingers.

Cosmo said...

Thanks for your comment and advice, st.

Yes, sometimes the occassional glance gets a response. Perhaps I need to be spending more time in cafes than I already do! One of the few 'regulars' I notice in one coffeehouse is the resident Tarrot reader. She's always interesting to talk to.

In regards to the thought about community and parish boundaries, I'm sure I'll be exploring that area of the topic. (I wonder, are there scattered individuals who are part of your MSS community who wouldn't engage with a local parish??)