When thinking about the theme of “Sharing and Caring,” I immediately thought back to the Sunday morning I agreed to speak at First Mennonite Church. This was in 2014. As I re-read thru my notes, I came to realize so many of the ways in which we can experience community at FMC now are still the same as they have always been. There are some expressions of community which may take a slightly different form or format now. This is partly due to the contagion we are in and partly due to the many changes in technology since 2014. We can still be community to and for each other in many ways. We are probably our own biggest limiting factor.
I invite you to reflect on what I wrote and said in 2014 and consider ways you can be community to someone at FMC, your neighborhood, your work, your school or another group. I hope you will be surprised at how “present” you can be with someone, even if not physically adjacent to each other.
Finally, read the addendum to this talk, as it has been updated to reflect the community who has been there for me, again, during the illness and recent death of my father.
First (Recognized) Personal Experience of Church Community
It was October 16th, 1976. This was a Saturday. A neighbor man picked me up and drove me to my parents’ home. As we approached the house, I could see the driveway was filled with cars. Other cars were parked in the lawn and many were in the neighbors’ drives. As I walked into the house, I was met by my disconsolate father who simply hugged and embraced me and just wanted me to hug him. My mother was nearby and once Dad released me from his arms, she was readily available to also receive and give a prolonged embrace. She had tears in her eyes and it was obvious she, too, had been crying for some time.
As we stood in the dining room, I realized there were many other people present, some around the dining room table, some in the nearby kitchen and at least another dozen or more in the adjacent living room. Most were sitting, sometimes two or three to a chair. The couches were overflowing. Some there were my former youth group members or church friends of my parents and others were from our church or neighborhood. As I walked into the room, a space just appeared for me on one of the couches. Those who were already on that couch simply scooched together even tighter. I sat and wept intermittently while feeling the arms and hands of others reaching out to let me know they were there for me.
The afternoon before, my middle brother had been killed in a car accident while he was driving home after school on a Friday. The rest of the events aren’t really relevant for today’s purposes. However, these circumstances brought about the first time I recall sensing community from the church. I was only 19 or 20 at that time, and even though I had only attended this church for about 2 years before going off to college, the people from that congregation made certain that my family and I were not alone that first day, or in the days, weeks and months following the tragic event in our lives. The people from that church gave us food for our bodies; they gave us words of consolation and hope for our broken spirits. They also gave us their presence and assurances of their continued presence. I am convinced beyond any doubt of how important and powerful being the recipient of church community was for me at that time, and how important it has been in my years since then.
Second Personal Experience of Church Community
Roll time forward approximately 10 years. It is now 1986. By then, Deb and I had been married about 7years and had been living in Indianapolis where we had been attending First Mennonite Church. We had just had our first child. Sometime, during all of this, someone from the church organized a baby shower. A baby shower for us? Why us? Well, it was simply the custom. If someone in the church was having their first baby, then, the church hosted a baby shower. But, why a shower for us, I still asked myself?
We had only been here about 5 years. We were here for medical school and I was in residency. We could be as transient as many previous students or residents or as many of the students to come. Yes, we knew a lot of people, but many only by name or face. But a baby shower was held. The rooms off of the kitchen were packed. Some of the people Deb barely knew. Gifts were opened and passed around. Stories were told. Suggestions and ideas abounded. There were lots and lots of people here, or so I am told. This shower happened in the days when couples’ showers were not as frequent, so it was given mostly by women primarily for the mothers of new babies. So, though I don’t remember being there, I do recall loading up our car after the shower with what seemed like a never-ending supply of diapers, blankets, books, powders, booties, hats, clothes and more clothes for our new little girl. I remember Deb and I saying to each other, “Wow” and “Wow” and “Wow” over and over and over again. The generosity of time, of spirit, of gifts, of money, of inclusion spilled over. I clearly remember a strange, warm feeling of community from the people of this church. Somehow, we felt like we belonged here.
The experiences I just related are just two of the many experiences of community I have felt over the years. One was prior to being at First Mennonite. One was here at FMC. One was during a time of terrible angst and pain. One was during a time of great joy, anticipation and celebration. Community happens at both ends of the spectrum and at many intervals in between.
Let’s take a look at community at First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis in a bit more detail. But, first, let me provide you with some confessions and a little background.
Those of you who know me or even are around me occasionally know that I can be irreverent at times. I openly confess this to you. I am the oldest of five children. All of my siblings are brothers. My parents were missionaries. My dad was a teacher, a Bible Institute Director and a pastor. So, not only was I a Missionary’s Kid, but also a Teacher’s Kid and a Preacher’s Kid. How many more “Kid” does one need after one’s name in order to qualify for the prototypical ‘rebellious’ child or irreverent teen / adult? After all, perfect behavior was expected of me all along my growing up years. So, try to cut me some slack. Regardless, I confess, I am irreverent at times. It is this very acknowledgment and awareness of my irreverence and many other faults which makes standing before you today and preparing to stand before you today such a humbling and, yet, meaningful experience.
I also confess, that I haven’t and don’t always put forth a spirit of community. Sometimes, this is to individuals; sometimes, to groups of persons. I don’t believe this is intentional most of the time. It is usually due to my own tendencies toward introversion, or lack of awareness of those around me or simply not having honed some skills in showing and providing community. However, I am still learning and growing in these areas. I have the desire to show more facets of community to others. Again, it is the very acknowledgement and awareness of my many faults in this area which makes standing before you such a humbling and, yet, meaningful experience.
On a related note, it was Shannon who approached Deb and me by email about speaking today. I did indeed say, “Deb and me”. You will note it was both of us she approached. It wasn’t one or the other, it was both of us. What many of you don’t know is that, in Deb, I have been blessed beyond my imagination with a person who has grown into being the primary source of community in our household. She is our source of community not just for her family, but with my family, with our friends, with our children, with our small group, and so many others. This may be thru texting or emailing, sending birthday cards, get well cards, taking a meal, making phone calls, taking time to go visit, doing someone’s nails, wrapping a care package, etc. She has been the primary communicator, planner and organizer for nearly all of our family events. She thrives on helping others feel like they can find community. She has lived by reaching out to others early and often and helped to provide a sense of community for them. For this and much more, I am so grateful to Deb and her witness of community to me during our 35+ years of marriage (now, 41+). So, I have honored her request to not speak from the front of the church this morning. It was the least I could do.
Opportunities to be Community at First Mennonite Indianapolis
These opportunities abound in a variety of manners and a little creativity can make this list expand a lot.
- hold baby showers
- have a used clothing and toy gifts/sales
- celebrate births
- staff a volunteer nursery
- have child dedications
- let youth provide babysitting
- be Sunday school teachers
- staff Bible memory program
- staff Christmas program
- plan Easter egg hunt
- lead children’s time during worship
- support adopting parentshelping with fundraising projects
- be sponsors
- hold and attend fundraisers
- be formal / informal mentors
- support the parents
- encourage worship participation
- offer tutoring
- facilitate camp experiences
- offer job shadowing opportunities
- support conference trip
- support service opportunities
- help with higher education expenses
- provide career counseling
- help when struggling with school difficulties, gender identity, bullying, or other issues
- help on church workdays
- pack, load or unload during moves
- provide cleaning services
- drive to doctor appointments
- sit with/during chemo/therapy
- pray for those on prayer card
- attend men’s breakfast
- attend women’s bible study
- help with parenting skills
- sing in the choir
- share teaching techniques
- give music lessons
- nurture abilities with arts and crafts
- share physical or occupational therapy advice or techniques
- support parents who have children with special needs
- support children who have parents with special needs
- support children who are in the muck of divorcing or divorced parents
- mentor medical students/residents/graduate students
- learn about specific physical needs (automatic doors, nut free environment)
- learn about specific social needs (autism spectrum, Down’s syndrome)
- learn about specific neuro-psychologic needs (loneliness, depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders)
- share skills in areas of networking, social media platforms, general IT/IS, electrical, telecommunications, roofing, plumbing, woodworking, vegetable and flower gardening, painting, cooking, tree trimming, etc, etc.
- help with disaster relief
- help with church building maintenance
- prepare or deliver Meal Train food
- make visits to hospitals, homes, retirement residences
- mentor students/residents/graduate students
- be in a pastoral support group
- be on playground duty
- welcome others during fellowship time
- invite someone to your small group
- go Christmas caroling
- be present to those who grieve loss of jobs, physical or mental abilities,
- moves, departures, illness, death
- welcome new members
- share new job skills
- fast for a cause
- provide job leads
There is no shortage of ideas. Pick just one or three!
October 11, 2020 following the death of my dad on September 26th, an excerpt of what I wrote:
Thank you for your words, cards, emails, calls to Dad, texts or calls to Mom, presence at the memorial service or viewing the service on line as well as other ways you have been of support to me during the illness and death of Dad. I have been floored by the sheer number of persons who made contact, over 80 and counting! For someone like me who is not on any social media, that is a large outpouring. And I am grateful and feel blessed.
So, yes, being community is real and is important and is still very possible today and now, when we need it more than we once thought. May you find ways to receive community and give community to one another.
About the author
Robin lives in Indianapolis with Deb and within 40 minutes of their daughter, son in-law and two granddaughters, as well as their son and daughter in-law. Robin relishes hiking at a local park or having one or both granddaughters for a sleepover at “Papaw and Nana’s house.” In his spare time, Robin fills in as a pathologist for his group, does volunteer electrical or plumbing handyman jobs, volunteers as a Spanish interpreter at a local elementary school, visits family, or pedals one of his bicycles.