One night as William and I were walking around our neighborhood, we saw a message written on the sidewalk. It said, “join us for free food and live music.” We decided to mark it on our calendar. When the date came, we found ourselves following the chalk mark arrows.
When we entered, William thought we had stumbled into a private event. There was a live band playing music, outdoor fireplaces, foliage decorations, food, drinks and lots of people. It just seemed too good to be true. We stayed the rest of the evening and soaked in just how beautiful everything was.
We met the leader of the band, who was also our hostess, and chatted briefly with her and her husband. What stood out to me the most was that our hosts had opened up their hearts to the community. They shared stories between songs and, after the music had ended, they said,
“introduce yourself to those around you, if you haven’t already. That’s what this is all about.”
Quite simply they were building community. Their daughter spent the week before baking enough bread for everyone. Their family got fresh leaves and flowers for decorations and wrote invitations in chalk all over our neighborhood (it was hard to miss). When we spoke with our hostess she said,
“stop on over whenever you like. We always have people coming and going.”
I realized this wasn’t a one-time thing their family did. Not only did they open their home to anyone for this night, but they practiced hospitality as a lifestyle. They literally just keep their front door open.
This reminded me that I sometimes overcomplicate building community. I come up with excuses for why I can’t do what my neighbors were doing. I might not start a band or host free concerts anytime soon because that’s not where my talents lie. Building community, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be complicated. It often just takes inviting other people in. It could mean opening up one’s home and starting a bible study or just plain inviting folks over for a meal. It could mean planning a bonfire by the ocean or meeting up at the park with a friend. It could also mean having weekly rituals. For example, after Mass every Sunday my parent’s group of friends goes out for coffee and food.
When it comes down to it, your home doesn’t have to be perfectly cleaned, the food can be simple, and the invitation can be a chalk sign on the ground. Hospitality takes the courage to say, “I’m enough, welcome into my wonderfully messy life.” As Jean Vanier says, “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” Sometimes we can have the Instagram perfect table settings. Other times just offering a cup of tea and opening up our hearts is all that God is calling us to do.
Before we met our neighbor, I had already felt the call in my heart to open up our small apartment even when it was covered in boxes. That wasn’t exactly my idea of a good entertaining space, but I realized, it didn’t matter; we could still have people over. Our neighbors invited us to come over anytime, regardless of what was going on in their lives. I’d like to emulate their openness and not get caught up in the details, but focus on relationships.
Currently, William and I are helping with coffee and donuts at our church (even though ironically we don’t eat or drink either) just so we could get to know our fellow parishioners. We regularly invite friends over for dinner and spend time with family in the area. I was able to attend a Blessed is She brunch this weekend and meet other Catholic women.
We also participate in our local Buy Nothing group. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s a place online for people to freely exchange their possessions and talents. Neighbors can post items to share, such as an extra bed frame (which we received), or they can post needs such as help fixing a car problem. Neighbors in return can gift their time, or items they want to give to someone in the group. The generosity of those involved is quite radical. It’s comforting to know that if we had a need our community would be there to help us.
Our neighbors opened their home in a radical way. We are vulnerable when we open up and share our hearts and homes. But isn’t that where relationships begin, and where community begins, with a simple invitation? Sometimes we have to seek out a community. Other times, we are the ones who help facilitate it.
What communities have you been a part of and are involved in now?
What are you being called to do in your city, in your church, in your workplace, in your neighborhood to build community?
Does your relationship with your neighbors reflect the love of our Heavenly Father for us?