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Advice: Looking For Community

Written by Pat Sullivan

Community allows us to gather wisdom and enrich our lives with friendships.  Columnist Pat Sullivan offers helpful advice on finding community.

The longing for community is deep and natural. Within community, we learn more about ourselves as we stretch way beyond our prejudices and limitations.

The only limits to spiritual community are your own imagination and willingness to work for the kind of community that best serves you.

Don't expect the group to meet all your needs. Find the right balance between stretching past your comfort zone and protecting your emotional comfort and sense of safety.
Create a fair and effective way to build respectful communication. Sit in a circle and make sure no one person or subgroup takes over.
Make plenty of room for the wisdom of the shyest people in the group to emerge.

To get started, simply invite a few potential community members to join you. Share your vision and allow others to express their wants and needs.

Ask questions like these to help you discover the best shape and purpose of your group: What is your common bond? Your age, marital and family status, or ethnic group? A shared faith or ecumenical concerns? The longing for a new vocation and/or the desire to bring more spirit into your present work? A burning question or desire to serve in some specific way?

What types of activities most call you? Meditation or open-ended sharing? What commitments and levels of intimacy do you expect? What limits and support do you need so you feel comfortable and safe? How will you ensure that quiet members get room to speak and that no one dominates?

If you want meaningful community and can't find it, maybe it's time to create it! Here are some examples of communities others have created:

- A writer's group that for 12 years has shared personal and creative
struggles, prayer and lots of laughter.

- An earth-based spirituality group whose members have helped restore a meadow, gone bird watching, and told stories as they camped out underneath the stars.

- Scriptural study and prayer groups from many denominations.

- People who meet regularly to learn about other traditions.

- Mothers who first met 15 years ago in a Lamaze class and now meet regularly to support each other and conduct creative rituals like rites of passage.

Although being in community requires being honest and open with others, it doesn't mean you have to "spill your guts." Indeed, it's important to know when it's time to keep some information private. It's also important to be realistic about how much time and other resources you can devote to your community.

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