The role of relationships and community in my spiritual growth

What has been the role of relationships and/or community in your spiritual growth?

This question was recently posed on Facebook by Christianne Squires and I told her I could probably write an essay on it. So here it is.

The roles of relationships and communities have both helped and hindered my spiritual growth.

Community has hindered my spiritual growth by not teaching me.

I've been a Christian from the cradle. I would say I spent the first half (currently) of my life not really getting Christianity. When your Christian education consists of some Sunday School and a confirmation class (where I was taught things my current church teaches to pre-K and elementary school aged children), it shouldn't be a surprise that I didn't really get it. I'd never been educated beyond a kindergarten level and somehow I was expected to know why it was so important to worship God and what exactly that entailed. I was taught nothing beyond "come to Sunday worship" and "be nice to people". 

I went to church because I liked to sing and because I had to (not that Mum would've made me beyond Easter and Christmas but because I am a good girl who is ruled by oughts and shoulds.) I served on parish council and walked the streets of my suburb to hand-deliver parish newsletters to save on a bit of postage. I *did* church.

And yet I fell in love with liturgy. More importantly, I fell in love with Celtic Christian liturgy as it was being reimagined and the contemplative quiet of Taize. These were seeds waiting for the right time to grow.

Community hindered my spiritual growth by not seeing me.

I left home and stopped going to church. I did try two churches and neither of them acknowledged my existence so I never went back to them.

Relationships hugely helped my spiritual growth when I married a Catholic.

I was raised in the Anglican Communion and going to a Catholic church caused all sorts of issues for me, the main one being I was not permitted to take communion. All of a sudden, communion, which I hadn't been taking by choice as I hadn't been going to church, was hugely important. I had to work out why, and my husband and I had some very spirited discussions on Catholic theology and doctrine.

We ended up leaving the Catholic church (although the Catholic church doesn't leave you!) and went to an Episcopal church.

My current community has helped my spiritual growth in many ways.

By being welcoming and actually letting us rest after being burned out at our last church with "doing".

By getting us to Cursillo, a Christian renewal weekend, after ten years of it not happening at a convenient time.

By opening doors and opportunities to exploring my faith, such as:

(1) when I served on the vestry and we went on vestry retreat, where I discovered monasticism, Episcopal-style, and where I had a literal meeting with God on the mountain. (If I tell the story, I will cry because it's when I knew, in no uncertain terms, that God loved me, despite everything. Everything.)

(2) at that monastic community I became an associate of the order, and it is where I am learning about personal piety, a rule of life, and of striving to be with, near and present to God.  It's at this monastic community that I have found a haven to rest from the work of ministry.

(3) We learned about the Education for Ministry program happening at a different church, and I finally got the education I'd lacked all my life. Now I knew how to read the Bible in multiple ways, now I knew how the church doctrines were formed, now I knew the radical inclusion of Jesus, now I knew how God has acted and been present throughout my life (spiritual autobiography, of which this is a snippet), now I had a theology that had well and truly graduated from Kindergarten Sunday School. For four years, we belonged to a small community of students and we all helped each other through the faith crises that came with studying the Bible and our faith tradition. Out of that time, came a brand new friend, a soul friend. We share about each others lives, chant, and occasionally write icons together.

(4) When we first joined our current church, a Catholic community rented space. Now we share the space and share ministry. Through worshipping together and Advent, Ash Wednesday and Holy Week and by joining forces in helping others, we've become one community. (Who gets to take communion still separates us, much to everyone's frustration.) Remember those issues with going to a Catholic church? Overcome.

As you can see, it is not just one community that has helped form me, and that formation overlaps. For example, after being told at Cursillo I needed a spiritual director, years later, thanks to the monks, I understood why. Both of my spiritual directors, past and present, have been Catholic monastics. They have walked with me through my spiritual journey, providing a reflection.

Episcopalians waiting in line at a food truck at a Catholic conference.

It's at my church that I learn about what it means to be Christian who is beloved and who loves, to be a person of faith, who God is, was, and will be. Through adult education forums, through the wisdom of elders about praying, through going through stuff with each other.

There's also where I work, a Reform Jewish congregation. They have welcomed me to worship (which I love, once a sucker for good liturgy, always a sucker for good liturgy). I have learned so much about Torah that I know I've barely scratched the surface. I have fallen in love with Jewish prayers, like the Sh'ma and the recitation of the V'ahavta and examined why. My faith has expanded and continues to expand as a result. When I read Christian theology, I sometimes think to myself: "umm, Jewish context anyone?"

Even when I felt or realized my spiritual growth was being hindered or was stagnating because of community, some growth came out of it.

How about you? How has relationships or community played a part in your spiritual life?


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