Most every Tuesday and Thursday morning I drag myself out of bed at 5:10 a.m. so I can torture myself for an hour on a spin bike.
I do it for one really good reason: I need the exercise. But mostly what helps me get there is I have a friend who attends the same class. I know she will be there, and I tell myself that if she can make it, I can too. And I like starting my day seeing and talking to her.
My birthday landed on a Thursday this year. When I arrived at class, there was a balloon and tiara on my “usual” bike. The whole class sang “Happy Birthday” to me while spinning. Now those are some cardio superstars! It was silly, but it put a smile on my face, and the feeling stayed with me throughout the day.
That got me thinking about the power of community. It was being built right there in spin class. Who would have thought? I see these same people—for the most part—week in and week out. I don’t really know their names or much about their lives. And yet this class has become something of a touchstone in my life. I am so NOT a morning person, but I have this deep need to keep showing up, and for more than just the exercise.
I volunteer as a small-group leader for the senior-high youth at my church. We leaders are reminded that our job is to make sure every youth gets noticed, known, and cared for.
At first I thought, Shouldn’t youth ministry be more than that? Shouldn’t we be focusing on connecting youth to Christ, helping them grow in their faith and live it out every day?
Yes, the youth director plans each week a great lesson to do just that. But what has been reaffirmed for me is that unless youth are known, noticed, and cared for, all the rest falls on deaf ears. It really does not matter.
More than polite
Ultimately, it is all about relationships and the power of community. Young people have to want to show up, and they are only going to do that if they believe they will be safe, they will be accepted, and somebody will notice the details of their life.
Adults are not all that different. We live in a big world, where it is easy to feel anonymous, like just one more person in the great big sea of humanity. We may wonder whether outside our immediate family, anyone really knows or cares about who we are and the life we seek to live.
Most churches say they are friendly places. And it is true. We nod. We say hello. We are polite to each other.
But most of us are looking for more than a friendly place. We are looking for real community where people might care about us enough to want to be our friend.
Church is many things. It needs to proclaim the good news in powerful ways. Yes, of course, preaching, teaching, and ministries of compassion and justice matter. But I am convinced at the heart of it all is the quality of relationships. If I don’t feel like I matter here in this community, I am not going to stick around. And if I do discover a community where I feel I belong and my presence matters, I will make every effort to show up. Even at 5:45 in the morning.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church