After moving four years ago, my family and I found it hard to connect with our new parish community. With three girls under age 5, we spent most services confined to the cry room on our knees, picking up the crushed pretzels that had failed to pacify our children. Before the closing hymn began, my husband or I would pull around the minivan for curbside pickup for the love of my sanity.
None of my kids were enrolled in the parish school yet. I hadn’t joined a Bible study or book group since my husband’s travel made my nightly availability non-existent, and getting involved felt infeasible as I stayed at home with three young children.
Adult parish life, heck, adult friendship is hard. I’m guessing you can relate.
If any of you also feel sad you don’t recognize people in the lobby after Church, are longing for the community you once had, or wish you knew more people in your neighborhood, you are not alone.
Here are three ways we’re attempting to get community rolling.
1. Find your people
As I waited in the preschool pickup line when my kids started school in the parish the following fall, one kind woman invited me to a daytime Bible study. We dropped our kids off, switched between who hosted over coffee, went through Bible chapters until the preschool pickup alarms went off, and left to pick up our kiddos. That woman found the common ground all of us shared — kids in preschool at the parish — and invited us to gather in our free slots when they were at school.
I would encourage you to start here. Your common ground — kids on the same team, living on the same block, diehard sports fans — likely look different. But gathering with these women each week has built friendships which served as our starting place to build a greater community all because one person made the first move.
Are you called to do the same?
2. Put your game plan together
We had decided to meet to discuss what was on our hearts — how to get our community rolling — which came down to the 5 W’s: Why, Who, When, Where, and What.
Why did all five of us feel the need to build a better community at our church?
All of us had strong faith communities in high school and college and, while recognizing those were different life chapters, were sad our parish community didn’t rival them. While we had enjoyed growing in relationships in the book group, we still didn’t know the other women in our community — parents with kids in different grades, couples without kids, grandmas, etc. — we sat beside in the pews.
What is the need?
We all felt our parish needed a women’s group that would appeal across age and faith spectrums. Our hope was to provide a space where we could gather together and grow in our relationships with each other and with God.
Who needs it?
We all wholeheartedly agreed we wanted every woman, no matter what stage of life or parish involvement to feel invited and, inspired by another parish group, we called ours, “Women at the Well.”
All of our schedules felt overwhelming. We felt a once-a-month large group event after kids’ bedtimes would be best so we didn’t add “just another thing” to people’s already busy weeks.
What will it look like?
When thinking about what helped us grow in the past, we decided social time over drinks and snacks, listening to a speaker, and discussion questions at each table would most appeal to women from the church and set us up to build community.
For you, the answers to these questions may look very different. If your ‘why’ is to build a men’s group and your availability is weekends, for instance, your ‘what’ may look like cards every other Friday night. The important thing is that you find your common ground and meet to get things rolling.
3. Get your community rolling
Shortly after Christmas break, the five of us gathered again to divvy up who should do what to get our first event on the books. We brainstormed a list of speakers that appealed to us.
Once the event schedule was lined up, I offered to make the “Women at the Well” Facebook group and put up our first Facebook Event. Another organized member offered to make drink and snack signups. Two others offered to greet people at the door and emcee the night (perfect roles for their personalities!).
If doing all of this event prep makes you want to retreat into your shell like a turtle, I get it, but here’s the thing – You’re not supposed to do it alone.
The first step in building your community is finding people who want to do the same. The second step is using your strengths to build it together so the success or failures of the night don’t all rest on one person.
As we came together for our kickoff event, it truly felt like the pieces fell into place as I watched each of us using our unique strengths to build community at our church.
The turnout was far greater than any of us expected. Single women, moms, and grandmas filled the tables. People on staff, parishioners new to the church, and those who’ve been involved for 15 years all joined to share fellowship.
What struck me most was that, despite the different life chapters many of us were at, the women filling the room all came together for the same reason the five of us had gathered over drinks two months before – to grow in our relationships with each other and with our Lord, to break down the walls between us.
And then…COVID-19. None of us could’ve predicted that our church and school doors would close due to a pandemic, but here we are. Over the past few months us five, along with the rest of the world, have put our large group events on hold.
Instead of gathering together in person, we shared a talk the night of our scheduled event on our Facebook page. Instead of inviting women we met to coffee to follow up, we’ve checked in via emails and calls. We’ve adjusted, as we all have.
We gathered last week in one of our backyards spaced at a six-foot distance and decided, even if the event looked different, we wanted to serve the community of women that were likely longing for community even more so now. We’re offering a drive-up reflection over a loudspeaker, adoration and confession, and small groups at a six-foot-distance night. Everyone will bring their own chairs, drinks, and masks. We’ll stream the event for anyone who feels more comfortable staying at home.
While the night will look and feel different, we’ll gather and try to knock down the barriers between each other and our Lord that this epidemic has created. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
How can you help break down the walls at your parish? In your kids’ schools? In your neighborhood?
If you feel the need for community, chances are other people do too, even and especially now. I want to encourage you to take the first step with people you share common ground with — introduce yourself, invite someone over, volunteer at an event, or say, “Hi,” in the school pickup line. I guarantee you there are people longing for community just as much as you are.