Ruth and I have been chatting a lot lately about community, and more specifically, can/should communities be created? I have had an experience which has lead me to believe we’ve got it all wrong, and I’m inclined nowadays toward organic community. That is to say, communities maybe shouldn’t be organised. Perhaps even can’t (successfully) be organised, unless the community was first grown organically. I’m going to ask a lot of hard questions in this series.

A little bit about my journey

I have been privileged to have been part of some incredible communities of Christians in my past. In 1999 I started the M4TH artists community – an international roster of likeminded artists. Not everyone was a Christian, either. We bonded based on aesthetics, and it worked. We explored the deep recesses of faith and art together via email, face-to-face meetings and collaborative projects. We hosted art shows, published an illustration book and a large exhibition website.

In 2001 a long-time accomplice of mine, Shiloh Bradshaw (also an Upptäcka Network author) started the Pulse community. This was a more organised community of poets, writers, painters, lighting engineers and musicians. Pooling our talents we did a few art shows at various venues across Los Angeles and Orange County. We spent times together worshipping (courtesy of Jen & Andrew of LoveLite fame), giving talks about our art and praying for one-another. It was incredibly creative, yet also grounded in love. Shiloh now runs Springfield Pulse Arts, and it’s subsidiary homeless art initiative, Phoenix Arts Project.

Also in 2001 I was working at a local cafe outside Los Angeles. I continued to meet people who were just buying coffee. What started as extended shift-breaks talking spiritual philosophy and fast cars quickly turned into a three-and-a-half-year long weekly meeting of guys from a massive range of interests. We met at Rick’s house every Saturday night to talk about the bible, worship, drink beer, fix cars and barbecue large amounts of red meat. This community experience for me was, above all others, very important to my understanding of what community should be. There was real love, real passion, and a true overlap of daily life. But most of all, this community had not been organised by anyone through a flyer advertising a men’s bible study or even a home group. This happened all on its own, and it was the deepest experience of community I have ever known. It was totally organic, with no agenda.

Since I moved to Bristol UK in 2005 I have been a part of the LoveBristol Community and Charity. LoveBristol was born out of a few individuals who were running a ‘pastorate’ in a large ‘free’ church here in Bristol. There was a vision to make a difference with real, on-the-ground work coupled with strategic projects. Really it is a social community-action group. The community meets every Thursday, but the core of LoveBristol is its projects. In 2010 we invited Bill Johnson, Mark Stibbe, Shane Claiborne and other renown speakers to help us put on the Release2010 healing conference at the Colston Hall. We’ve built several community houses in the area of Stokes Croft in central Bristol. We put on the LoveBristol Festival, partnered with local cafes, ran a free clothes shop out of a derelict shopfront and started a proper boutique shop.

A few things I’ve learned

Having really tried to be a part of several formal communities, in my experience, the ones that were organised with a motive never seemed to gel, while the ones that happened all on their own with no hierarchy or apparent organisation flourished.

Initiatives are no substitute for community. Initiatives are most potent and successful when borne of community, but initiatives can be successful alone. Many modern ‘communities’ are really just good initiatives.

The questions

My journey has had me asking a lot of unpopular questions about community over the years:

  • Should communities be [manually] created?
  • Can intentionally-created communities thrive?
  • What is community?

These questions make people uncomfortable, and I understand that. Heck, they make me uncomfortable! But I believe we’ve got ourselves into such a state of confusion when it comes to Christian community that we need to go back to the drawing board.

In the articles following I am going to expand on some of these questions and probably unearth a load more.

Thanks for reading