Thursday, January 23, 2020

Peace be with you.

It may sound odd coming from me—an atheist—but much of what I learned about community started with the priests and pastors I worked with in the more-than-a-decade I served in music leadership positions for the Catholic and Episcopalian churches.

I worked for Father John Bell as his interim director of music for six months, and as a soloist and cantor for him for several years. I learned two very important lessons from John.
  1. I had a choir member who left in a huff. I don’t remember why. I wanted to go talk to them. I remember standing with John in the vestibule as he greeted his parishioners. He said to me, “The best thing to do is let them walk away.” He was right. I took that into my leadership of TuDiabetes and other diabetes communities.
  2. I was really short-handed in the choir for the 9am service. Two people singing. That was it. I had asked him to petition the congregation for volunteers. It hadn’t worked. He told me to “ask for a number.” “I need three women and two men to join the 9am choir.” The next Sunday, the chairs were filled. More than that came. It reminded me at the time of the advice to, in an emergency, ask a specific person for specific things. You—call 911. You—hold back the crowd and give us some space. You—lift up his head. It’s much more effective than “somebody help me.”
I learned ways to not run a community from priests I worked with, too.
  1. From the priest who ran our campus ministry in college, who would snap at me, call me clumsy, or complain about how he was mistreated by people in the community. When I encouraged him, in private discussion, to turn the other cheek, he snapped that those people weren’t Christ-like. I learned that good people can be wrestling with struggles that may cloud their judgment.
  2. From the pastor for whom I ran the children’s choir who made me wait an hour in the hallway and then dismissed the efforts of the children. “Oh, did they sing on Sunday? I didn’t notice.” At the Mass he presided over. I learned that indifference and impatience were forms of hostility. And that they broke trust.
Why do I mention all of this? Because people can be very good, and also very flawed. People can be driven to serve, and still be fallible. Growing our community takes all types, at all points in their journeys.

While I don’t believe in the god these men honored, I always believed in the communities we served.

Negativity builds cheap community. It’s easy to be riled up together. To sharpen pitchforks together. To picket industries together.

It’s harder to grow together. To mature together. To nurture patience and understanding together.

I’ve learned from both the special needs parenting community and the disability community to ask “What would be helpful right now?” And “what is that experience like for you?”

What can you do, today, to help someone grow in their journey? To reach out to someone struggling? To whom might you ask those questions today?

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