Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Creating Community

We at church link with Dr Maureen Howard who uses our facilities to run Sustainability courses. We see her work as part of the total life-enhancing stuff we want our Space2B and Church buildings to be used for. She is a lively Irish lady who has a great sense of humour along with an intellect that allows her to know her stuff well and communicate creatively with depth and passion. I have seen her facilitating various groups and you cannot help but enjoy her take on life. Today I was talking to her as people were arriving for her class. There was warmth in their greetings and obvious pleasure at being together again. As I went back to the office I thought "Maureen is not just sharing knowledge, she is creating 'community' ". Indeed I believe this is done intentionally. She wants to create a supportive group feel about the whole issue of sustainable living, and she does it well.

"Community" is a word that was thrown around a lot a few decades ago. Small groups were in. We talked group dynamics, roles within a group and learned all sorts of techniques. I believe it is an important part of life. I think if through our activities we can aid the development of "community" we are contributing something important in our society. It is difficult to define what is meant by "creating community". I guess it is creating a "space" where people can find acceptance, support one another, affirm one another and help each other's personal growth. These can be like minded people with a common interest, (e.g. sustainability) but need not be.

One example of community is what is happening in Christchurch after the earthquakes there. I was talking to one man who went up and down his street inviting neighbours to an evening meal. They shared a meal and checked on each other's need. Just last Monday after the earthquakes happened there my son and his partner arrived home and saw their neighbour, an older woman sitting on her front steps distressed. They went and sat with her. Invited her to their place and shared food and wine together. They were creating community in the midst of difficult situations. It is not just gathering people together, it is getting them to relate openly and in a caring, helpful way to one another.

In Christchurch some months ago I went door knocking with the Salvation army to check on needs. We discovered that there were many isolated people living side by side. We were there because of the earthquake, but often they told stories to us about hurts and burdens they were carrying for years. One elderly man didn't seem too pleased to have us fronting up at first, he did not want any counsellor, he was doing OK. But as we talked he gradually told us so much of his life as tears rolled down his face. There were hurts and heartaches. There were experiences of sickness and disappointment. He told of two bereavements and of his fears for the future. He was seated on a box and I knelt down in front of him till my joints ached, listening. I suspect he had not had anybody really listen to him for years! At another place when it came time to go a lady physically held on to us. It wasn't just the earthquake, she was just so lonely and isolated long before the earthquake hit. Now she had someone to talk to. I recall a film where one elderly lady asked to be called by her real name. She said, "Everybody has called me "mum", or "grandma", or "Auntie" or Mrs Smith for years, nobody has called me Maude! That's who I am, 'Maude' !" We need ongoing contact with people where we are valued as an individual and where we can value others. I was once on a committee which had real difficulty functioning. We were to have a Saturday morning meeting to deal with some curly issues. I had been frustrated with this group for long enough so before I went I filled a big thermos full of hot water, grabbed tea bags, coffee, milk, and some biscuits and put it all in a box. When people gathered for the meeting, in spite of the chairman's impatience I announced, "It's a cold morning, who wants a cup of tea before we start." Everyone wanted it. As they drank they talked not as committee members but as humans. When the poor chairman started the meeting we talked so much more openly, respectfully and creatively. Community began to happen. We treated each other as human beings.

This is what we try to do with Space2B, with our drop-in centre, our walking group and with our church - create a space where people meet each other as human beings. I believe it is a vital contribution to make. This morning when I was talking to Maureen one lady came into the room. Maureen introduced me to her. "Dave this is Phillipa ........, she is editor of the NZ Organic magazine, (pause) but she is a human being too". Then she turned to Phillipa, "This is Dave, he's the minister of the Church here, but he too is a human being." ..... It was a reminder that whatever roles we have, we are first and foremost human beings who need people to treat us as human beings. That is what "community" does for us.

Photo: Dr Maureen


Anthony said...

"Creating community"... What you write about is so interesting. I think I "created community" by accident, meaning I provided ongoing training in a certain subject in Dunedin, and there must have been a need, because people came along, and kept coming, then became friends, and the original group is now more like family than separate people coming along to classes... Sometimes I watch over them all and I realise they really are now a type of "family" and it all exists (now) separate from me. If I walked under a bus tomorrow, it will continue, they will continue. Which is a strange feeling, because I never set out to do it, or even thought I could help create such a thing. ?? Do you think I am on the same page as you, in what you are saying? Anyway... great thoughts from you as always.

Dave Brown said...

Sounds great! Definitely the same page.