Love, Belonging, and Christian Community
When I was in middle school, Valentine’s Day was a non-threatening, classroom-party day. Every student gave a Valentine card to everyone else in the class. We would have pink and red cupcakes, share loads of candy and make heart-themed art projects to take home to our families. We were all classmates, friends, and no one was left out of the fun.
Then came junior high when classroom parties were not allowed, and valentines were sneaked to your crush by your best girlfriend. This was a time of hurt feelings for some and 3 or 4 valentines from admirers for others. Gone was the feeling of belonging to one big group of friends.
Erik Carter, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Special Education at Vanderbilt University’s did a study on belonging by surveying more than 500 youth with intellectual abilities or autism and their parents. From that research, Carter identified 10 dimensions of belonging.
To be present
To be invited
To be welcomed
To be known
To be accepted
To be supported
To be cared for
To be befriended
To be needed
To be loved
There is some very deep truth in these 10 dimensions of belonging that speak to the character of Christian community. True Christian community is a community of belonging and this characteristic is as scriptural as it is true. Christian community of belonging has no barriers to being present. St. Paul tells us,
“…God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.” 1Cor 12:24-25
A Christian community of belonging encourages the presence of all primarily by extending personal invitation to all. This is a radical concept lost in our digital age. Yet receiving a personal invitation is at the heart, the core, the foundation of what it means to feel welcomed. Jesus himself taught us,
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” Matt 5:46-47
In Christian community, how do we strive to know, accept, support, care for, and befriend each other? These dimensions of belonging require a level of humility, intimacy and listening that I have only found in small, faith-sharing groups. A Christian community of belonging will provide such opportunities for intimate connection. St. Paul encourages the community at Corinth,
“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do.” 1 Cor 5:11
I felt the last of these two dimensions as a young bride. In my family of origin, everyone contributed food whenever we gathered. When gathering with my husband’s family, I was not asked to bring a dish to make our meal together complete. I felt that I was not loved by my “new family” because I was not needed. A Christian community of belonging requires the gifts of all; this is the soil in which love blooms.
“Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Pet 4:8-10
I continue to learn the lesson of belonging in my most basic Christian community, the family formed on the day my husband and I were married. We continue, through our life together, to till the soil of belonging by being attentive to all its dimensions.
As we celebrate this day of red-frosted cupcakes, candy, and cards, let us strive to create Christian communities of belonging wherever two or more are gathered. Happy Valentine's Day!