Trusting enough to be vulnerable and the willingness to be accountable are key intentional acts needed to build true community. In the extensively secularized culture of England, self-reliance and independence are seen as ultimate strengths, but being vulnerable is seen as a weakness. So how does one encourage true community there?
This is the question Cheryl and Michael Nimz of Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Man., continually ask themselves. Now living in the U.K., the Nimzes serve under the umbrella of the Mennonite Trust in England and through an arrangement with Mennonite Church Canada. They are fostering an Anabaptist vision of Christianity with everyday people seeking deeper spiritual fulfillment.
In a recent update, Cheryl says: “We discussed the idea [of community living] with one of our study groups. Everyone agreed that community is important, but the group—friends who had met regularly for years—questioned how they could create a solid community. I suggested perhaps we needed to be vulnerable and accountable with each other.”
The Nimzes went on to share some of their experiences in other groups they connect with in Birmingham. One of these groups is Monday Night Peacemeal. Anywhere from six to 16 people gather each week for a meal, sharing about their lives and their personal concerns. The group members trust and support each other. They are vulnerable with each other. But it took some time to get to this place, as they all have different backgrounds and personalities.
When the Peacemeal group got an email from one member with “help” in the subject line, Peacemeal rallied around him, no questions asked. By seeking help from his friends and sharing his circumstances, he allowed himself to be vulnerable. “As his friends, we showed accountability by walking alongside him,” says Cheryl.
Another example occurred in a Tuesday night home-based church group. When the relationship between a couple of the members was in turmoil, they showed vulnerability by talking about their situation. Instead of taking sides or walking away, the others showed accountability by standing with them and supporting them in humility and love.
“When I shared these experiences with our study group, they said that approach went against their culture. They grew up with the saying, ‘Put on a stiff upper lip and get on with it,’” says Cheryl. Despite this, the study group wants to start working on building a deeper, more connected community.
Living in community is hard when people are conditioned towards being self-reliant and strongly independent. “We have created such an individualistic and proud society that it appears we are weak when we ask for help,” Cheryl says. “In this crazy, messed up, divisive world, I feel encouraged that so many people are beginning to understand that together we can make communities so full of love that it’s contagious.”