So, 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 here as the Chaplain to a local football team, Chase Kings, and 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 most people that builds around the place they live; my mother, who still lives in the village where I was born, often bemoans the lack of community compared to 40 years ago when everyone knew everyone else and their business. Going by this definition that 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 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 in the last 40 years and people are no longer tied to an area in the way they were 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.
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. Wherever you find community in your life, wherever I see community, these men are the benchmark to measure it.