I've been thinking and talking a lot about community these days. Theoretically community is extremely important to me, and I'm taking notice of how the theory plays out in real life, and it's not exactly what I expected.
I've been having struggles with my local church congregation, and I've also been having difficulties expressing my grievances. The congregation is small, just a little single's branch with 30 or so members. They are warm and inviting, and yet I feel left out. They are caring of each other, and they're friendly with each other, to the point that they spend hours with each other every day. They're friends. And I hate it. The thing is, I'm not looking for friends at church. I don't need a social circle; I need a community. I want fellowship, not friendship. And I'm realizing now what the difference is.
Each community plays a different role in an individual's life, and building a community does not necessarily mean building friendship. Friendship is good, but it is also messy and it often is reserved for particular people, people you trust and want to share close and intimate details about your life with. Friendships are built within communities, but not everyone in the community must become a close friend. And this is ok. We'd probably go crazy if we had to be close friends with everyone. Fortunately other needs are met by community, by choosing to associate with people who are not friends. That's what fellowship is about: finding value in people who are not your close friends, loving people who you wouldn't normally want to hang out with, serving them and allowing them opportunities to serve. I don't believe it's necessary to have friendship marathons in order to fellowship.
I've never been very social at church, and yet I've had few complaints in the last five or six years of my role and my place within the church, even though few of the people in my congregations were actually my friends. I rarely made friends at church with people who hadn't already associated with me outside of church, and yet right now is the first time in my life that I have not felt part of a community. I feel like my branch is one giant clique, and honestly I just am not interested, nor do I have the time to devote to making friends with these people. They overwhelm me. (Seriously, the one time I hung out with them it lasted from 6pm to 4am. I never spend that much time with my closest friends, let alone people I'd only met a few times before.)
But I still need a place where I can find like-minded people to talk about God with, and I still need people to take care of, and people to take care of me. Since I stopped going to activities and stopped hanging out with people, and since I've missed the last three Sundays, only one person has contacted me, and no one has tried to find out why I'm not going to church. I know there are people who are responsible for me: home teachers and visiting teachers, the Relief Society president and the Bishop, and yet, no one seems to want to know what's up.
On one level I am perfectly fine with this. On another I feel as if I've simply opted out of a social group and no one particularly noticed. I don't think this is what being part of a community of Christ should feel like.
Now, I know that I am being a) prideful and b) lazy. If I want a community I have to build a community. I have to take part and put energy into it. The thing is, I am willing to do that. I want to do that. And I've tried and felt like my efforts were not being equally met by the community. It's hard when no one seems to notice whether or not I'm there. It's hard when I try to talk about the church, about Christ, about people's troubles and joys and am met with silence, and the people I'm talking to go back to their flirty banter. It's hard when I never received a calling or responsibility when I came into the ward, despite vocally expressing my desire for one to people who have the power to give me a calling.
One time not long ago I held a friend's hand. I wanted to show him that I cared about him. I wanted him to feel a physical manifestation of my willingness to be there for him. He never responded; his hand was a cold dead fish. It hurt; I felt that I wasn't needed there. I've tried repeatedly in other ways to put myself out there to connect to him, and my efforts are often met with that same coldness. We do connect in other ways, but I always feel some sort of dissatisfaction in our relationship.
I was listening to a song today that reminded me of this feeling I have with this friend, and suddenly I realized I felt the same way about the church. "I'm tired of trying when I don't get nothing back." I am in an unhealthy, one-sided relationship with the church. It doesn't want or need me, and my efforts are met with coldness. That is not right; this cannot be a one-sided deal.
So the church community is not really available to me right now, and I'm tired of trying. Fortunately there are other communities. I have a school community that appreciates my efforts to connect to them. I have a roommate who trusts me and shares with me. I have internet communities and a family community and old friend communities. I'm not giving up on the church community. I hope things change with this one, or I hope I'll be able to find the community I need some day, but right now I just don't know what to do.
UPDATE: I just read a post on Feminist Mormon Housewives that I think really illustrates to me the kind of fellowship I wish I felt in my ward right now. The author doesn't have any close friendships in the ward, but they clearly look out for her and her family in a moment of need.