Finding Community

By: Jimmy Bryan

When I came to Mercy, I came with an idea. I felt that I had been provided so much in life, that I had a call to give back. I wanted to serve. So it was, that through serving, I sought to become a part of a community.

But my framework of serving had a severe flaw, one that would prevent me from becoming part of the community had I not been entering a group in which grace and flexibility abound. It turns out that my good intentions to serve others were great, but to truly be a part of community, I would have to learn to receive, too.

It is often forgotten that serving others can also be an exercise of power: one person has something another one needs. True relationship can be lost in such raw power dynamics. It is a position of privilege for me to say, “I want to help you.” But it is a position of equality to say, “Let me be in relationship with you.” Mutual relationship is not born out of just serving others, but out of love, compassion, and humility.

One of my first experiences at Mercy was an uncomfortable interaction I had with someone in the community in which I was asked for money. I could have responded in lots of ways that were just transactional—one person having something the other needs. That would have been true, whether I had simply said yes or no. Instead, we had to talk about what was happening between us. I was finding that by entering into community, I was no longer able to ignore problems with others. I needed to address them head on.

Someone from home questioned me, “Couldn’t you just say no?” Previously, I would have thought “Sure, of course, I can just say no.”  But now I was in community, and there are no easy answers in community. I found that in order to promote relationship, I had to address people and issues differently because I would see that person again. My decisions had to be made on a long-term basis. Now, I had to mentally ask myself, “Am I working with love and compassion? Or am I just trying to avoid the real issues?” Being human, I know that I didn’t always get it right. But I did go forward with the best answer that presented itself to me at the time.

My time at Mercy has come to an end, however, and while I have learned a lot, I now am faced with new questions. What happens when I am not immersed in this community? It is in this place, with these people, that I find a structure and rhythm to my day. At Mercy, I not only find support, but it is with this community that I affirm my beliefs and through which I find it easier to live faithfully. As I leave Mercy to move back to North Carolina, I hope to look for other avenues through which I can continue to grow. I hope to find new ways to challenge myself and my faith.

I like to wrap ideas up in nice, neat, “take-home” packages.  Frequently, I find that I have fooled myself into thinking that I have things figured out. But in writing this and trying to reflect on my experience, I have come to the realization that if I think I have things completely figured out, I have missed the message and point of being at Mercy altogether. Over and over again, I have been reminded “we are all in process” as we grow together in faith, love, and compassion.

When all is said and done, Mercy is a church. What we do makes for good relationships everywhere—lending someone your ear, assessing questions with compassion and thought

instead of being bound by rules. In the very individualized world we live in, I feel that we are slipping away from these important foundations of community. The texts we study in the Bible are a way of navigating the world and understanding that people before us struggled, as well. They searched for the “take-home” message, too, and one man brought it to us. The love and joy that comes from identifying and integrating the practices of faith into one’s life are genuinely moving and yet incredibly hard.

While I find that I cannot express the palpable joy I get from walking into our little Mercy room, strewn with so many things, and so many people, I realize that there are very concrete things that I have to take with me. The past six months at Mercy I have learned about relationships—how to start, sustain, navigate, and grow relationships. And how to keep on in the process.

Henri Nouwen has become a very important theologian to me while at Mercy, and he captures something I’ve learned here. In his book, In the Name of Jesus, he wrote:

“The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.”

Society tells us to live a certain way. The Bible challenges people to live a radically different life. Jesus laid out ways in which we can live lives that promote positive growth for oneself, and in turn, the community. We are to live with love for others. And those who live in love, truly glorify God. In our busy and competitive world, there is great hope in that.

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