On Community and Belonging

A picture I took of the Bethel Community Christian Church in Bethel, Ohio on Friday. They’ve actually been around since 1821.

I wrote a story for my newspaper on Friday about a church, Bethel Community Christian Church in Bethel, Ohio, celebrating its 200th anniversary. We have various supplemental magazines and editions of the paper throughout the year and this story was for our upcoming Faith and Family edition.

Whenever I get to do those historical features, I love it because I get to add in the context of, you know, James Monroe was president then, and the United States had a population barely bigger than that of current New York City. Like, it’s wild to think of anything being around for that long! Obviously, it changes and adapts along the way (including in the case of this church, its name), but to be able to say you’ve been around for 200 years is so cool to me. It also shows how young of a country we are.

Heck, I should note, I have the privilege of working at a newspaper that has been around a considerable amount of time itself: Since 1828 (only seven years after the church!), which I might add with some pride for something I didn’t do, is longer than The Cincinnati Enquirer has been around (1840).

Anyhow, the point of this post isn’t too talk about history, as much as I love history, but rather community. I was listening to the service the church held on Nov. 13 to mark the 200th anniversary and you know, it’s weird. I’m not religious, as I’ve said many times. I wouldn’t say I’m atheist, either, but I’ve always struggled with the idea of a God (and the myriad ways one can mean that) existing, organized religion and the apparatus it erects around that idea of a God, and feeling like there’s just that mental block there that others don’t seem to have.

But, something I’ve always sort of appreciated and you might even say, pine for, is the community created by a belief in God. That is the good part of organized religion and churches. Heck, look at the name of the church: They put “community” before “Christian.”

So, the senior minister was talking about how he was some (self-admitted) punk growing up. Yes, a shared belief in God was powerful in and of itself, but he started choking up talking about how this community had accepted that punk. And now he’s the senior minister. That’s powerful! Beautiful and lovely.

I am most certainly not the first person to make this observation. Many contemporary and past writers have authored books about the community manifest by religion and the concerns those writers have that with the waning of religious influence and the corresponding waning of that community, it’s having ill effects upon society, mainly, that people are seeking that community through politics, which brings about cult followings and fervent devotion to people and bonding around conspiracy ideas and the like; at least, that’s one thesis I’ve heard and I think there’s some truth to it.

To be sure, even if I could get beyond the God talk, religious communities can and do manifest negatively, too. Despite the Biblical teachings, those communities are comprised of humans and have all the failings of humans: hypocrisy, judgment, envy, hatred, jealous, etc.. And for me, I find frustrating the hypocrisy of a religious community who may be accepting of people, but with the glaring caveat of people who look like them and are like them. Which, again, I think goes against Biblical teachings. I’m laying down this paragraph to acknowledge the other side of the religious community.

No matter how misanthropic and insular we get with ourselves, every human by virtue of being a social being, pines for belonging, even if that belonging is with one or two people. We need it. And we need those things which are bigger than ourselves, which is what connections with other people and a wider community amounts to. And I am no different. A part of me does indeed pine for a wider community and something bigger than myself in which to be a part of.

So, yeah, that’s my, uh, Sunday confession, if you will. That while watching that senior minister deliver his sermon, I felt a little bit of a longing.

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