Much to my delight, Oxford College has recently hired the new position, Director of Community Relations. This is certainly not the first time the college has engaged with the local community in its long history in Newton County, but it means that we now have a point person to help facilitate this work and be more strategic in the ways in which we connect with entities beyond our own campus. Until now and through the years, many folks at the college have pitched in to make this happen.
If you’ve read many of my columns you know how important it is to me to be engaged in the local community. Two years ago, I shared for the first time the work I was doing through my course, Understanding Community: Oxford Encountering Oxford. I’m excited to be teaching and learning again this fall alongside fifteen first-and-second-year students who just completed their midterm project – interviews with local community members.
Our students (and most prospective college students) don’t come to college intent on getting involved with the local community. Sure, they might be interested in volunteering, but mostly they look at colleges for their value, what kind of education they will receive, and if the college will prepare them for graduate school and/or a job. That doesn’t mean, though, that we should be apathetic about helping them understand what it means to be a good citizen. Our students will one day reside in local communities again where we need them to be thoughtfully engaged in community building. That’s why I developed this course, to institutionalize a way for our students to get a start on understanding community. I wanted them to learn how to listen to others while also finding their own voice and using it in their community.
We see many lessons about community in the Bible. We’re taught about those we are to look out for – widows, orphans, refugees and others whom we often find on the margins in our communities. In the Christian tradition we’re reminded that where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there in their midst. One of the important doctrines in the Christian tradition is the doctrine of the Trinity – God, Son, Holy Spirit. Community is built into and permeates everything we do. I believe it’s our calling in the Christian life.
A few years ago I heard a preacher share a story from his childhood that resonated deeply with me, so I share here from my own perspective. When I was young and did something I shouldn’t have done, my mother would often say to me, “Now, Lyn, that was uncalled for.” Have any of you ever heard that? Uncalled for. It’s an interesting phrase isn’t it? It’s as if she was saying to me that there is something about me that is called for. That when I’m doing something harmful to myself or others, I am uncalled for. But when I’m doing something good, loving, or just, I am called for.
In the Christian life we’ve been called into good, loving, and just relationships with God, ourselves, and most certainly others. We’ve been called to not only love ourselves but our neighbors as ourselves. It’s not just a strategy for community outreach, it’s a way of life that takes lots of practice.
I pray that in this contentious election season, we will practice being good citizens by voting, listening to each other, and after the elections, working together to draw more people into the circle. It’s our calling, not just as Christians but as human beings.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University.