I come from a once rural village that is slowly being swallowed up by Southampton’s suburbs and the need for more housing. I understand that need but at 53 I’m starting to sound like my parents and grandparents before them. You hit an age, eventually, where you begin to look backwards more than forwards and bemoan the fact that “it’s not like the good old days.” My mother looks back on the times of rationing, rickets and smallpox through rose coloured lenses and can be heard saying to anyone who will listen, ”you had a real sense of community then”. We think community is gone and lost. The good news is, it isn’t. It just moved house and started wearing new clothes.
So let me tell you a story about community. It’s 11am on a Saturday morning in January. According to my phone the temperature is 4c with a real feel of 2c due to wind chill factor. I’ve got four layers of clothes on and I’m still feeling the cold. I’m stood on the side of a football pitch and I’m here as the Chaplain to a local football team, Chase Kings. I’m watching community in action.
The dictionary offers a variety of definitions of community but they are all variations on this “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”. For many older people that builds around the place they live and refers back to a time many years ago when everyone knew everyone else and their business. Community was built around an interest in common which was their neighbourhood. At that time most people still lived and worked relatively locally, most holidayed in this country if they went on holiday at all. 40 years or more on and like most of my peers I can’t afford to buy a house in the village, upwards of 50% of the homes belong to people who commute to work in far off places or have bought the houses as holiday homes. Yet community still exists. The world has changed greatly and people are no longer tied to an area in the way they were born so community is based around a different set of common interests and attitudes. Communities are built around slimming groups, mothers and toddlers groups, amateur theatrical groups, church groups and charitable organisations, which brings me back to a cold Saturday morning in January.
A common interest doesn’t make you a community, it makes you part of a group. Sharing certain attitudes is what makes you a community. The players on the team would probably be slightly embarrassed to realise they represent the best type of community, one based around mutual encouragement and support. A typical conversation on the day went like this, after a poor pass. The player who made the pass “sorry guys, thought you were further up.” “S’alright mate. Next time!” From the player who raced to intercept the pass but got beaten out. They share a common attitude that everyone on the team makes a valuable contribution, that the team aim is to play the best they can with an eye towards winning and that support and encouragement makes people try harder. The team is built around bringing out the best in each other and not picking out faults and failings, they’re not perfect and occasionally they slip but not often, not often at all. They treat each other with respect.
There are many small communities like this and they are built from a set of shared attitudes on a foundation of a shared interest, chances are you belong to one yourself, whether it’s ladies who lunch, the school gate on the school run or a bunch of mates meeting in the pub. Community isn’t dead but you may have to look for it somewhere new.
Jesus tells us the second greatest commandment, after loving God is “to love your neighbour as yourself”. The Bible was written in Greek and there are four different words that translate into English as “love”. The one used in this instance defines love as being selfless and unconditional and that’s what I’m seeing on this cold, muddy playing field. The places we live are often too big and too diverse to make that community we all so desperately want but opportunities for community that meet are out there. All you have to do is open your eyes and look a little more widely.