While community in its purest form can be a supportive lifeline, it can be hard to find, and even harder to maintain. At its root, a community is a group of people who come together in order to give something of themselves to the others. The process of creating a community, of going out, meeting new people, and being vulnerable isn’t just complex—it can be downright terrifying at times. There are so many unknowns and obstacles when it comes to forming a community. What if we don’t agree on everything? What if we don’t put forth our most genuine selves? What if someone doesn’t want to give back to the community? In the end we can feel fractured inside—spreading ourselves between different communities that never give us a holistic satisfaction. We think that one group of people can make up for what’s lacking in another, that we have to be different people in order to fit into different communities. Yet, this dispersion over different groups need not be the case. In the model of the Trinity, God shows what true community can look like, and encourages Christians to adapt this model most explicitly in the church, but in other areas of life as well. Although no church is perfect, God’s intended plan for community within the church is. As Summer notes in her article “Inside Out,” Christians are called to gather together, to encourage one another in their gifts, and to hold each other accountable. This level of relationship is the most difficult kind of community to cultivate, yet is the one most necessary for leading a fulfilling Christian life.
Coming to Penn I wasn’t worried too much about adjusting to the workload, or managing my time, or even being far from home. I was most worried about making friends. I’ve lived in the same town my whole life and had the same friends since elementary school. I had no sense of what it took to create a community because I was lucky enough to have always had one around me. I went to church and had my friends there, and went to school and had my friends there, with some overlap. Although I can remember being frustrated as a young child when I felt different from other kids, these feelings were usually stifled by my mother’s soothing words and gestures from my friends that seemed like a validation of my worth as a member of our community. This all changed when I came to Penn. I felt exposed because I didn’t have a community I could just fall into. I would have to meet friends and join extracurriculars on my own, judging for myself what would be best for my well-being as a student, a Christian, and a young woman who at the time felt very alone.
At first, I was completely overwhelmed. I went to the Christian fair with the intention of finding a Christian group to connect with on campus. There had to have been about twenty groups there. This confused me;although I was used to divisions along denominational lines, I was unaware of other divisions within the church. Summer speaks to some of these in her article, such as race and attitude, and how the superiority complex found in some Christian circles reinforces the characterization of Christians as hypocrites and frauds. Christians preach God’s love for ALL people, but if they use their calling to only help others when it reinforces their own subjective “moral” superiority, then they are subverting God’s commands.
Summer’s point about feelings of superiority growing within a Christian group can be relevant for non-Christian groups as well. As I joined different clubs, I realized that there was no way of escaping judgment, or at least the feeling of being judged among those whose community I was joining. I worried that Christians would think me too liberal and too sinful, while non-Christians would find me boring and standoffish. I tried to please each group accordingly, but never felt secure in my position within each community. For someone who already has trouble in social situations, these doubts compounded my anxiety of finding communities where I fit in. To make matters worse I began to feel estranged from my friends and family from home, who were leading lives that seemed completely removed from my own.
After becoming familiar with the people in each of the different groups I was a member of, I began to feel that I could be myself, that I could belong. It when was I wasn’t turned away from being me, faults and eccentricities included, that I felt more comfortable sharing and less afraid of being judged. There was no “Aha moment” when everything became easy, but I became more aware of what steps I needed to take in order to foster my own community. I began to take a more active part in my Penn Christian community, attending more events, trying to build relationships with other members, and making more of an effort to further my spiritual knowledge. The people on the “inside” of the group seemed to have a noticeable connection. They trusted each other, cared for each other, and brought joy to each other. When I saw this, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. This desire extended into my other activities as well, and even gave me the courage to confront the difficult feelings I had about those I had left behind when coming to Penn.
I still miss my friends from home, and occasionally find myself in a dark place wondering about the lives they are leading without me. I still have trust issues, and more often than not feel ill at ease when my belief, action, or value differs from those around me. In these times of doubt, I put my faith in God, knowing that he has put people in my life for a reason, and that I ultimately must pursue these relationships in order to grow spiritually.
Community isn’t easy. It is something that needs to be constantly worked at and attended to; otherwise, it will decay. But the effort that is put in is rewarded, for it is only by giving freely of our time and gifts to others that we can receive blessings in return.
Emma Hetrick is a junior at Penn involved in groups related to her interests, faith, and academic field of study.