There’s a Maya temple on the Yucatan Peninsula that was begun in the 9th century and built up over hundreds of years. The cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris took 182 years to build, beginning in the 12th century.
More recently in Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral took 83 years to build, starting in 1907. These are just three examples of large and impressive sites built by our forerunners and ancestors as places for people to gather.
Today when we think about some of the largest and most expensive communal sites in our American cities, incredible feats of engineering designed as massive gathering places that attract tens of thousands of visitors on a single day, what comes to mind? Did you think of stadiums?
Creating Tradition, Finding Identity
It’s part of our cultural history that our ancestors built temples and cathedrals as places for gathering and practicing rituals, and today we build sports stadiums for the same reasons. By looking at landmark communal structures, we can see how our sense of community has changed.
In our human history we have thousands of years of experience of belonging to a tribe, clan, or city-state. In Central America each native village has its own colors and textile designs. In Celtic cultures different tartan patterns were associated with particular regions and clans.
This practice of identifying oneself and banding together with others is carried on today by countries, schools, gangs, political parties, and sports fans alike.
It’s a social impulse to gather together with like-minded purpose, to feel like part of a group, part of a tradition and culture. It serves an important purpose. So what can we do to acknowledge our long history of banding together in communities, and to specifically enhance the sense of community in our churches?
Making a Spiritual Neighborhood
It’s great when a spiritual community does more than just hear a service together on Sunday morning. It’s great when we know that we’re here to share with each other, help each other, and support each other as we laugh and have fun together.
When I was 6 years old, my family moved to a new suburb on the outskirts of Houston. Five families with five children each lived on my street. We all went to the same schools. We played in the street, we went to each other’s houses, and we rode ride bikes all over the area. There were no walls or gates keeping us in or out of our neighborhood. When we knocked on a door, someone answered.
I don’t want to go backward, but I wonder how we can take the best of all of our accumulated human knowledge and wisdom and apply it to what we know today.
Unity in the Community
Houston, where I live today, is the fourth-largest city in the United States. The city’s land area extends more than 600 square miles. Our Unity of Houston sanctuary holds 1,200 people. So the people in the congregation established Unity in the Community.
We wear matching t-shirts and do projects together, such as serving at the food bank or at a homeless shelter or participating in the Gay Pride parade. It’s empowering to feel like part of a group, clan, or tribe in the middle of such a large city—to put on the colors and be part of the team. It’s fun to create things together.
We’re interested in other ideas for interacting, participating, and fostering our sense of spiritual community. We lead full and busy lives, so this isn’t about adding meetings and obligations. It’s about relating to each other in deeply profound ways and honoring tribal customs that have helped us build and maintain societies generation after generation.
Acts 2:46-47 gives a description of people coming together around the teachings of Jesus: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number.”
Honoring the Past, With a Vision for Tomorrow
The Unity Archives has photos and records of Unity Village showing apple and peach orchards, vegetable gardens, and even vineyards on the grounds. There were bushels upon bushels of produce to sell. People quarried stone and planed wood for buildings. Wells on the property provided oil and gas to power the campus. People lived, worked, ate, prayed, and sang together.
What can we do to honor that history while we find our current way of being in the world? What can we do to bring people together in genuine and meaningful ways? What can we do to help nurture and appreciate all the people and all the resources on this planet?
The year 2020 is approaching. 20/20 is a symbol for visual clarity. In these coming years let us see with visual clarity the world we wish to create and let us create it by blending the best of the old and the new so that we’re neither idealizing nor forgetting the past, and neither resisting what is current nor being arrogant and short-sighted about it.
We have the resources we need to create the kind of environment we want, and so let us set our goals and realize them. Let us see with 20/20 vision that a new era has begun and that we are influencing the world with our thoughts, our actions, and our words. Let us focus on creating the world we really want.