Community

Community In 1965, Paul Simon released the song “I am a Rock” a song that captures the feeling of the age, a lament of sorts to the isolation that people feel. The lyrics speak of the the fear of relationship; “I’ve built walls, A fortress steep and mighty, That none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship; friendships cause pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island.” A portion of the last verse reflects “Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock and I am an island.” The song concludes “And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.” Safe from the vagrancies of life, removed from the pain of human interaction; some hear this ballad as a lament of isolation; others the challenge of sturdy independence. Written 52 years ago, yet these words harbor the pent-up emotions of a new generation that often finds itself cut off and isolated. Johann Hari explored, in an article within the Washington Post, the struggle of the war on drug addiction. He noted “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; It is human connection.” Hari goes on to suggest that human beings are bonding animals who need to connect with others, to love and be loved. Yet the culture we seem to have created brings about disconnection. We declare that our technology has linked us closer together than ever before. Yet, with our noses buried into tiny screened devices we seldom see much of the world around us. Our interpersonal skills falter since we seem to prefer to text rather than talk. We capture selfies of ourselves with others all the while staring into a camera lens; ear-to-ear rather than face-to-face. Our fortress walls indeed are steep and mightily built, digitally, rather than with brick and mortar. But no matter the building material the consequence is isolation. Johann Hari quoted another writer, George Monbiot who has labeled this time in history the Age of Loneliness; I think the description fits. What is sad is that even in gatherings we seem to have found a way of remaining isolated from each other. I am haunted by stories of people who have left churches because they felt isolated and alone. I have experienced it myself in visiting other Churches where I have been politely ignored. I am haunted by images of people who sit or stand uncomfortably as everyone around them is being greeted but no one seems to notice them. How excited I am when someone, active in a church connects, then excitedly introduces the stranger to others making room for them in a circle where they can feel as if their presence matters. I was thinking about how we approach our place in the context of a worshipping community. Everyone present matters and when you aren’t present then the whole community is less. A few weeks ago in the height of Lent and Easter I was delighted by all who had come to worship. The songs were powerful because of the many additional voices joining in the singing. At one service, traditionally very small in size, the number of May, 2017 May, 2017 Grace Notes is also available online at www.gracelc.org/news/grace-notes Page 2 people in attendance was 2½ times greater than usual and I nearly lost my place in the worship service because the responses were so much more powerful. Years…. many years ago when I was a teenager, my family was late for Easter worship and I ended up sitting by an elderly woman with whom I had to share a hymn book. I was not a happy camper, but worship began and what else could I do but sing and respond along with everyone else. About halfway through the worship I noticed that my worship mate was crying, dabbing her tears with an embroidered hankie. She struggled to sing and choked her way through liturgical responses. An awkward teenager, I had no idea what to do except hold our shared hymn book a little more in her favor than mine and to sing and respond on behalf of both of us. In the back of my mind was the simple desire for the service to end so I could extricate myself from this uncomfortable position. A little background about this elderly woman beside me. Clara Jones was a hero of the faith, who in the 1930’s, found herself hiding in the mountains of China fleeing with many from the invading Japanese army. As a missionary she proclaimed the gospel by word and deed in refugee camps and in the process met the competing leaders of China: Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. After the war she was imprisoned by Mao before being expelled from communist China. She spent the next twenty years starting and maintaining an orphanage in Taiwan before retiring to her hometown. I was very aware of this great woman’s life and a bit intimidated by her presence and now freaked out by this display of emotion. I remember that as the service was ending I was prepared to bolt out as quickly as I could, but as the final verse of the final hymn was being sung she placed her hand on mine. I was trapped. The service concluded and Miss Jones dabbed her eyes a final time, cleared her throat, took both my hands and looked me straight in the eyes. “Thank you for worshipping with me today.” Then gripping my hands a bit tighter she said, “I have been worried about the Church, that people don’t care anymore about worship, or for that matter care about Jesus. But today you sang with me and you prayed with me and through you, God has assured me that the Church goes on. I needed you today.” And with that I mumbled an uncomfortable “you’re welcome” and wandered off confused by the day. I have never forgotten this moment and it has reminded me over and over again of just how important each person is to a worshipping community. Since that day I have always striven to participate in worship even if I didn’t like certain songs or styles of songs I have sought to sing as best I can; to participate in prayers and responses. Joining with those around me in worship, I often remember the gentle tears of Clara Jones and am reminded that in the simple act of participation, I can make a difference. I am now becoming more mindful of the presence and participation of others in worship, perhaps in ways similar to Miss Jones. I am overwhelmed by the number of young people who desire to help with worship; worship assistants, lectors, communion assistants, reading prayers, acolytes, Bible bearers, asperges, musicians, ushers and coming forward for children’s sermons. I am ministered to in their ministry of participation and frankly we are all ministered to as one generation prepares the next. Worship is one of the most important ways in which we build and maintain community and breakdown those walls that isolate us. God created us to be in community. We are not meant to be rocks or islands, but rather members of the body of Christ and our participation in worship is a grand and wonderful way that overcomes the isolation of our current culture. So my plea is this: do not underestimate the importance of your role in worship. Your place in the gathered community makes a difference; from sitting with friends and family, greeting the stranger or singing joyfully off tune! A worshipping community is the best way to end the tyranny of isolation.