I recently had the grand opportunity to walk in the Fourth of July parade in Oxford, because my son had been invited to ride on the Oxford College Organic Farm’s parade float (which won first place in the lawnmower/tractor category). I was amazed at how many people were lined up along the streets, sitting on their front porches, and in the parade itself. No doubt some of you reading this article participated. The crowd was diverse and people were cheering on all the floats and reaching for the candy being thrown at them. It made me think that this parade is one way we are able to work toward being a good community.
Community and the town and gown relationship between Oxford College where I work and Oxford, Georgia where I live is something I’m deeply interested in. It formed the basis of my recent doctoral work, but community has long since been a part of who I am.
I grew up in a small town where people knew each other. My uncle was the Mayor of our little town. My dad waved at everyone he passed in the car whether he knew them or not. When I would ask him if he knew the person he waved to, he would often reply, “It doesn’t matter. I’m just being nice and communal.”
That was a good sentiment from my dad as well as a good start to living into what it means to be a good citizen and shape good community. But it’s not quite enough.
As I taught my class, Understanding Community, last fall, community is about having respect and being responsible for each other. It’s about showing up to community events like parades, but it’s also about showing up to city council meetings where you get to know other citizens and leaders and where your voice can be heard. It’s about creating places of belonging, those places where our interdependence is valued as much and more than our independence.
In the Bible, particularly the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them” (Matthew 18:20, Common English Bible). And in the story of how the Church began, we find these words in Acts, “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers” (Acts 2:42, CEB). “All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them” (Acts 2:44-45, CEB).
A good community is one where we share our stories and lives, our resources including food and wealth and space, and where we see the gaps in belonging and do something about those gaps.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others before him (Josiah Royce) talked about the Beloved Community not as a grand utopian goal but a global vision that was realistic and achievable where people were committed to nonviolence and all would share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community poverty, hunger, homelessness, and the “isms” of life would not be tolerated. Instead, love, peace, and hope would reign.
Beloved Community may not yet be a reality, but it’s still our goal. And, in the end, that’s what will make us a truly good community where everyone belongs.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford with his partner, Ami, and their son, Sam.