Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Communities in Control

Creating community! It's a hot topic and one that has facinated me for quite some time. I don't know when exactly I became interested in community development specifically, but I know that I have been aware of an almost complete lack of genuine community in our society - church and secular - for a long time.

I couple of months back I was approached by the main sponsor of the youth drug and alcohol program I run, the American minining company Alcoa, to attend the annual Communities in Control conference in Melbourne and to undertake some study on community development leadership at their expense. I thought this sounded like a good opportunity and now that I know a little more about the conference, am glad that I'm going.

Around 10 years ago I remember standing outside a courthouse as a news cameraman, covering a case involving a 17 year old boy involved with an outlaw bikie gang. I was struck by the support the young guy was shown by his bikie gang mentors. I clearly remember thinking, "if only the church was able to do the whole community thing like that, imagine what it would be like". Of course the cost of "community" bikie style is great - once you are a part of their community they don't easily let you go. But the way in which they seemed able to provide a place of belonging and acceptance to a young misfit was, in a wierd kind of way, inspiring.

And there's nothing like a visit to Africa to make you feel communally challenged. The whole "tribal" lifestyle is all about community. I asked John Mihigo (our African mission partner) to explain the role of the individual in the African community to the Aussie team members as a way of contrasting our individualistic approach to life;

"The interests of the community come before the interests of the individual in African society. The individual is happy when the community is happy", was his in-a-nutshell response.

While I was in Africa I started reading Church Reimagined: The spiritual formation of people in communities of faith, the story of the Solomon's Porch Community in Minneapolis, USA, by Doug Pagitt. A lot of what Pagitt writes about really resonates with me. I love his approach to pastoral leadership and the way they operate as a community generally. Coupled with my re-emmersion in the African way of life Church Reimagined has left me determined to perservere with our Alternate[Or] gathering and with the goal of developing community within this fellowship and within this socially isolated neighbourhood, which needs it just as much as we - the local Christians - do.

So on Sunday night, just over a week after getting back to my family after 3 weeks in Africa, I jet off again for 3 nights in Melbourne and the Communities in Control conference. But I'm excited by what I am going to learn, and disappointed that I am not going to be hearing about it from those connected with the church.

I'll leave you with a quote from a former Communities in Control conference key note speaker, Professor Berkman of Havard University and tell you more about it all when I get back;

Community organisations have the power to tangibly improve population health. In this case, what’s good for individuals and what’s good for the community is the same thing. Those with the most social connectedness, i.e. who have a high level of participation in social and community organisation and networks, have lower mortality rates… ...Community groups are the engines that drive our ability to change behaviour, reduce morbidity, expand life-expectancy and innovate change (in Community Manifesto: Valuing Australia's community groups, 2003. p.6:


Doug Pagitt said...

I hope you enjoy the whole book and I look forward to tracking what you conttinue to create.

The Creature said...

Hey! Thanks for dropping by Doug. Not sure how you found my post so quickly though?

Thanks for putting the book out there. It really has helped me to refocus and keep going and to keep thinking about what "community" could look like for us.