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Shaping Communities by Dorothy Bass

Emily shared this article written by Dorothy Bass on Christian community and governance as a resource for inspiration and guidance as we work towards having a governance structure of our own.

The perennial Christian strategy, someone has said, is to gather the folks, break the bread, and tell the stories. It is as simple, and as disarming, as that. But within that simplicity lie complex questions. What shape ought the gathering to take? Do some sit in carefully designated spaces and the rest elsewhere? And who breaks the bread? Do all, or only some? For that matter, who tells the stories? Do all take a turn, or do people speak as the Spirit prompts? Are some interpretations and interpreters more authoritative than others?  On what grounds? The apostle Paul, teacher of community, urged the Corinthians to judge all bread breaking and storytelling and congregating by whether it was “done for building up” the community. But that was not sufficient to answer all the questions in this fledgling church. Should prophets speak in tongues if no interpreters were present? Should women speak? Must all who speak acknowledge the authority of Paul? (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).

Apparently, the program of gathering the folks, breaking the bread, and telling the stories is more complicated than it first seems. There are varieties of gifts, different roles, real tensions, significant conflicts. The ordering of community can give shape to the gifts of its members and provide space for the successful negotiating of conflict. The lack of good ordering can prevent gifts from being shared and allow tensions to fester. The shaping of communities is the practice by which we agree to be reliable personally and organizationally. This practice takes on life through roles and rituals, laws and agreements—indeed, through the whole assortment of shared commitments and institutional arrangements that order common life.

In one sense, then, shaping communities is not just a single practice of its own. It is the practice that provides the choreography for all the other practices of a community or society.

-Read the rest of the article here

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