Faith Matters: Community is the answer

  • The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher Contributed photo

IX Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts
Published: 5/31/2019 1:19:11 PM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com)

This is my first contribution to the Greenfield Recorder and I want to thank the Rev. Heather Blais for making this happen. I’ve been thinking about the power of community — not just Christian community, but human community. I was invited to speak at the public memorial for Meaghan Burns. It was so moving to see that it was Greenfield filling the pews of Saints James and Andrew — not just the congregation that cherished Meaghan and continues to support her family. When we come together — even as the world is falling apart — we become part of the solution. We find in one another the strength to continue the work of making this world into God’s kingdom “on Earth as it is in heaven.” Community is the antidote to the isolation and loneliness so many experience in our digital age. Physically coming together — for whatever reason — is effective. We are changed by the experience and our tank of hope gets filled up again.

That we need each other is no surprise. But perhaps we need community in a new way as we face the challenges of this time. It is a time in which we find ourselves confused, anxious and often angry. We have internalized the ugly and absurd as some kind of “new normal.” People have become deeply engaged in action and advocacy and that is a good thing. We are all needed and getting involved reduces the feeling of powerlessness. Margaret Wheatley writes, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” But while there is much work to do, it is also a good time to have a hymn sing, an ice cream social or a block party. Community is the cure for much of what is ailing us now.

Community is also the answer to the question: “Why should I go to church (temple, mosque, meeting)? God is ever with us, beside us and for us. But God is also in the midst of us, among us — “wherever two or three are gathered.” We can pray anywhere, but prayer in community is a different experience. I think of all those candles burning for Meghan and the certainty I felt that God was weeping with us. Community — human community — is infused with the healing power of God’s love.

Recently I returned from a trip to the Holy Land. I was amazed by the desert there, which is not so much sand as rocky hills with many caves. For some centuries after the time of Jesus, many saints would retreat to those caves in the Middle East to live and pray alone as hermits. One of those was St. Anthony of the Desert. He was extraordinary in his commitment to personal prayer. After a while, many people moved nearby to share in his prayer and live together in faith. That prompted one theologian to say, “When Anthony lived and prayed alone, he was a ‘wonder.’ When he gathered a community, he became a “sign.” A sign of God’s longing that we come together so love and hope might flourish.When so much in our world seems to be coming apart, let’s come together as a sign of God’s dream for the world.

Douglas Fisher has served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts since 2012. He is the spiritual and canonical leader for 50-plus congregations and community-based ministries from the Berkshires to Worcester County. Prior to election as bishop, he was rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Millbrook, N.Y. He and his wife, Betsy, also an Episcopal priest, reside in Great Barrington. They have three grown children. @dfisher_WMA




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