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Community – what does it mean to you?

May 18, 2015

A blog by Angie Gibson:

CommunityA few years ago, I was given a book by Tim Keller.  I was told “Don’t worry if you don’t understand where it’s going in Chapter 1, you’ll soon see where it fits in.” 

Sure enough, the first chapter was on community and I really didn’t understand where the book was going or what it was getting at.  Of course I was part of my community, I’ve lived in this town all my life and…. and actually that’s where it stopped.  Yes, I had lived in this town my whole life and I was a part of our church community but that was where it stopped really.  I did most of my shopping out of town.  I used the library in a neighbouring town (because it was bigger and better stocked, so I thought). I didn’t really know what was going on around me, often being surprised as we serendipitously drove past community events such as fun days and festivals. “How do they expect people to know it’s going on if they don’t advertise?” was one of my regular complaints.

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” quoted Keller from Jeremiah.  “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  The chapter goes on to discuss how we should be actively seeking to work in the communities where we live in to ensure we all prosper.    I began to realise that just because I lived in a town, it did not really make me part of the community.  I actually spent more time out of the town working, shopping and for leisure purposes than I spent in it.  Although I was quick enough to complain about ‘not knowing what was going on’, I’d never tried to find out what was going on; it was easier to jump on a train and take my daughter to the nearest city to visit its many art galleries and museums.

It’s been a while since I read the book, but the changes I’ve made in the choices I make have been significant.  I now serve as School Governor at my daughter’s primary school. I’ve moved our bank accounts to the town’s building society, and plan on joining the Credit Union. We buy the local newspaper on a regular basis to keep in touch with what’s going on around us.  I’ve even changed jobs and now work much closer to home in my wider Borough-community, rather than in the city-with-its-many-art-galleries-and-museums.  We’ve made considered big purchases such as kitchen white goods at a local shop, despite it being much cheaper to go to the out of town big stores (the service we received was a great deal better and more personal than we had experienced in previous encounters with the ‘big names’. Just this morning, I’ve signed up to do a couple of shifts in the town food bank over the summer.

But the easiest and biggest change I’ve made is setting up a social media account for our town, primarily to share local news and details of events running in our libraries, leisure centres and local charities. I’ve started discussions about our local dialect and been able to showcase the work of local poets, artists and historians to people who live in our town and those living further afield.  It’s led to me being offered a blog on a local newspaper website where I can write about the brilliant things going on in our town that many people aren’t aware of, such as local voluntary groups doing fantastic work leading clean-up parties on the town’s canal network; the latest blog focuses on a local artist who paints watercolours of the town’s landmarks past and present. In some quarters, it’s called ‘hyperlocal journalism’, but I just see it as letting everyone know what fantastic things are going on where we live.

Starting that social media feed has led to me having the privilege of meeting some amazing people who are working their socks off to make things better for their community; they are actively seeking the prosperity of the town and the people who live there. And now I hope to play my part in doing that, rather than wondering why I felt disconnected from my home town.

I’m guessing that some readers will think I’m a bit late to the party here, and many people will immediately see what I could not; just living in a town does not automatically make you a member of the community.  I believe it is because I’ve always lived here, and so have my immediate family, and I took things for granted and got a bit lazy.  If you move to a new area, you will end up pretty isolated if you don’t make a concerted effort to be involved with your neighbours. I needed to make that effort.

The book led me to re-examine everything I thought community was.  I actually needed to work at prospering my local community rather than being annoyed when I found out we’d missed the town Carnival and wondering why one of our libraries was on the verge of closure due to lack of use.

In writing this blog, I wanted to share a few of the simple ways that we can be more positively active in our communities.  There are lots of opportunities, even for those us who really are pressed for time with work and family commitments. I’d love it if you shared the things you already do, or are planning to do, to prosper your local community…

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