Three Tips on How to Build Community
Guess what, Gentle Readers? It’s my birthday! As such, I’m taking the day off from the keyboard and am going to spend the day tra-la-laaa-ing with my younger kiddos, and I’ve put one of my older kiddos–my son Andrew–to work writing a post for me. Andrew is an artist, a blogger at andhegames.com, story teller, song writer (cough) and all-around-terrific fella. I am really excited to welcome him to this space.
(Just like old times, eh Andrew, making you work on my birthday? HA!)
Andrew and his wife Sonia and their daughter (Princess) Anya Genese moved from Nebraska to Ohio last fall. I won’t mention how much we miss them, 😉 just that I am very proud of them and excited to bring you some insight from Andrew on their experience. Moving at any time–never mind across the country–is a scary, exciting, exhausting process. If you are involved in a move at this time, I wish you the best, and I hope this insightful post will help you in some way.
Take it away, Andrew!
Lessons I learned about Community from Moving Across
by Andrew James Miller
Last August, I moved away from my home state, ostensibly for adventure, but practically because my wife Sonia and I found an amazing job helping kids, which allows us to stay at home and pay off debt.
I had only ever moved 40-50 miles or so from home at most, so moving to Ohio from Nebraska was quite an experience. Here are a few tips that I learned about people and relationships in the process, hopefully to help you, if you are facing this prospect.
Tip 1: Meet the neighbors immediately!
In our last home, we never got around to meeting the neighbors, and after a year or two, it gets really awkward. You can’t just walk up to someone you’ve lived next door to for two years and say “Hi, I’m new here!”.
We took swift action when we moved, baking cookies and bringing them around to neighbors immediately. It was great, because we have some amazing neighbors, and we’ve made a few new friendships because of those cookies. It’s so much easier to meet people when you’re new. If you wait until you’re familiar strangers, it’s pretty difficult to start that relationship.
Tip 2: Make your own community.
Up to this point, we’ve only lived around family, and since we’re pretty close to our family, and we had lived in Nebraska forever – we always kind of had a de-facto awesome community. We didn’t have to try that hard. When we moved to Ohio, we suddenly had no one, and it’s hard work to build a community from scratch, especially when our social default is to stay at home.
We’ve had to purposely seek out people, committing to staying after church to talk to people, and going out of our way to set up social experiences. I’ve even met up with people who I knew from Twitter. This summer, Sonia and I are planning on inviting all of our neighbors to a backyard meal, which is something that we’re totally not very comfortable doing: we’re not super extroverts, but we realize that meeting people is healthy and important. It’s still been kind of hard.
Tip 3: Churches are hard to find, and you don’t know when to stop . . . until you do.
We visited 8-10 churches until we found our church. There were some that were obviously not going to work (like the rock-concert church service that had me sitting in the foyer with our little girl Anya for most of the service), but the troubling churches were the ones that were “ok”. We felt comfortable at the “ok” churches. Comfortably bored. We were wary of becoming “Church shoppers”, but the truth is that it’s difficult to know when to stop looking. We felt like at some point we would “just know”, like love at first sight, but we also knew that we could search and search for years, and never find a church that was perfect. We felt like we had to commit to one, so we picked one of the “ok” churches, and started attending there regularly.
The music was pretty good, the preacher was a terrible speaker, and many of the people politely warded off our attempts to become friends, but what were we, church critics? We tried to make do and get involved. We struggled with the polished, well-dressed, “just be nice and act like your life is perfect” persona that the church had – and indeed many churches have that feeling to them, like church was a place to go and be comfortable, a place to go and smile and talk about how blessed you are. It’s not like that’s a bad thing, but a few years ago we were part of a house church, which we loved. I think we were hungry for vulnerability, and so we tried one more church.
During the first service, we “just knew.” I’m sure this doesn’t always happen to people, but it sure did for us.
Our church meets in a café, and has an amazing prison ministry. It’s the most vulnerable church I’ve ever attended. They do this thing called “open worship”, where anyone can stand up at the mic and talk about their struggles, the pain they’re in, the difficulties they’re facing.
The point where I knew that we needed to attend this church was during open worship, where a guy who appeared to be homeless went up to the mic and sang a song that he had written to praise God. He warbled off tune, most of the lyrics obscured by his thick, raspy voice. It was awkward, slightly embarrassing, and totally beautiful. It was vulnerability. The fact that that he felt comfortable enough in this church to not only attend, but to get up and sing a song of his own composition was convincing proof that this was a church where anyone could feel welcome.
That’s the difference between the “ok” church and our church – I have no doubt that the “ok” church would welcome anyone with open arms, but none of the homeless guys who attend our church would ever feel comfortable in the ranks of well-dressed, nice-smelling people who attend the “ok” church.
It’s not about how welcome people are: it’s about making a place that helps them feel welcome.
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I guess that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from our move. When we moved in the past, we expected to be welcomed: we expected the neighbors to welcome us, we expected the church we attended to welcome us; we passively waited for open arms, and they were there for us.
This time was different: we found none waiting.
But finding and creating a community isn’t about finding a group of people who go out of their way to meet you, love you, and build friendships with you: it’s about doing the hard work of talking to people, creating social interactions in a world that’s increasingly isolating.
Finding and creating community is not about finding a place that’s welcoming: it’s about making people feel welcome.
Andrew is a graphics designer, a coffee connoisseur, husband to Sonia and papa to the lovely Princess Anee, house-parent to many, a writer, board game designer, and blogger. He blogs here, and you oughta totally check it out!
Thank you, Andrew!
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Happy Birthday, Amy! And, from an Ohio transplant to Florida, to a Nebraska to Ohio transplant- great article, Andrew! Ohio will treat you well!
Best wishes for your families,
First, Happy Birthday! What a lovely time for it! Second, I enjoyed Andrew’s writing and his points on moving. You must be very proud of him. I’d have like to hear about this job he has helping children. That sounds really nice. My daughter who is about to birth went through a time where she struggled with all the problems she saw and she wanted to work at something where she wasn’t making anything worse. He sounds like he’s done that.
I’ll ask Andrew to chime in on this one, Rita. Thank you!
Congrats on your move! I’ll hold onto these community building tips. My husband, kids and I are about to move in a few weeks. I’m looking forward to community building.
Pingback: I did a guest post: building community on vomitingchicken.com.
It MUST be your birthday, it’s the VERY FIRST 80° day today we’ve had in Boston MA! Many, many happy returns & may you be blessed with many more
Wow–the Boston weather is celebrating my birthday, too! Awesome, Debra!
I would also suggest using tools like meetup.com to find group in your area with similar interests!
Great tip, thanks Scott!
Great post Andrew and Amy!!
Well done 🙂 Enjoyed learning about how important building a community is from your son Amy, thank you for letting him share on your blog 🙂 I love learning about your family!! Great pics too!
Happy Birthday, dear Amy!! I hope you are having a fantastic day!
Great post by son Andrew – and so ironic that my only son is also named Andrew, and he shares many of the same qualities and talents as YOUR Andrew!
Karen, that is cool! Thank you so much!
I hope you had a Happy Birthday!!!
Happy Birthday Amy, I hope you had a wonderful fun filled time with whoever you spent it with, you have been kind to me and deserve the kindness back tenfold. Welcome to Ohio Andrew, this state is filled with great people who share all your thoughts and beliefs, you have a great attitude, and that will lead to finding the people you seek, treat others as you would like to be treated.
Amy, I sent his to a friend of mine who recently celebrated his birthday, I thought you may enjoy it as well.
“ To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent – that is to triumph over old age. ”
― Thomas Bailey Aldrich
So very much what I needed to hear! Mitch and I have struggled with building community. We have had some success, but also a lot of failure and rejection. Sadly, for quite awhile we retreated into ourselves and put up a front because we were tired of being rejected. The past few months we have been trying to be more vulnerable and willing to put ourselves out there again. Thank you Andrew! Your posts always speak great truth into our lives!
Hi there, you don’t know me but I feel like I know you from your post. Your post was great advice! Tip three, was the one that stood out the most for me. Happy Belated birthday Amy!
Thank you, Minnie. I’ll pass on your nice words to my son Andrew.
Belated happy birthday! I hope you had a great day!
Happy Birthday!! I hope you had a wonderful day.
I loved this post. We never have had a sense of community with our neighbors. It is heartbreaking.
Thanks Tracy! I think it’s easy to be isolated in our society, but your neighbors might be just as lonesome as you are. Have you tried to reach out to them?