2014: Five-Year Plan; 3. Invest in Community

1. Repent for thinking it was all right to live the way we have been living. It wasn’t, and we should have known it.

2. Don’t look away from the hard reality because it is depressing. Whatever it takes, work though the depression.

3. Invest in Community

Some years ago I did a workshop among friends from my church that started by listing all of the things we needed to have a full life.

Then we put a dollar figure by each one to guess how much money it would take to guarantee that these needs would be met.

Next we tried to identify which of these needs might be met with community, and some sense of how much time or effort, or even money one would need to invest in order for a community to take care of this need.

It was pretty striking how much more efficient community was at filling our needs that money.

But that is not what our society teaches us. We are taught to exist as individuals, families at the largest, and save (hoard) as much as we can in order to meet all of the possible conditions we may face. Building real community in the face of these values is a tremendous task.

When I wrote my Five-Year plan I was primarily thinking about communities that exist in physical proximity. I have been an invalid much of the past six months. My church did a wonderful job of bringing food, making sure I had rides to the doctor’s office, and was cared for when my wife needed to be away. I certainly experienced the dividends of being in a faith community.

Three years ago when I did my evaluation of my attempt to invest in community I included the category of trying to build community among people of like mind; people met on special occasions with whom I had shared a deep vision. Today this kind of community is often talked about in the social media or internet connections.

My experience was mixed. I have had some deep enriching correspondences with people I have met on my journeys who don’t live near me. But I have a caution.

As easily as these connections can be formed, so they can be abandoned UNLESS THERE IS THE ELEMENT OF COMMITMENT.

This is what I have learned in the past five years. Community of any kind, in order for it to meet the challenge of supplanting the major relationship modes of our day: individualism, capitalism, hoarding (saving) has to have a very strong element of commitment, whether it be in the family, church community, or distant correspondence.

I met Rachel on a 1000 mile Peace Pilgrimage. We became close friends. After the walk we each went our separate ways but tried to stay in contact. In order to sustain any kind of benefit from our friendship that might approach something like a building block toward community, It became obvious that some degree of intentionality was required in our correspondence, as well as occasional personal visits.

At one point we decided to spend a day walking together 20-25 miles through the hills of Western Massachusetts, as a way to approach the deep level of conversations in which we had engaged years earlier. One of the things we talked about was “relationships,” “ life partners” as well as living in community. When she asked me what I thought about “open relationships” I reacted pretty strongly: %&$@ that $%^&. I said. I stopped; took her by both hands and said in as serious a voice as I could:

 I, Newell Hendricks, take thee, Rachel _____, to be my good friend, not to have and to hold, that is for someone else, but to love, honor, cherish, and respect for as long as we both shall live.

She was shaking a bit and mumbled some kind of reciprocal statement, but I wasn’t looking for that. I wanted her to know in her bones what it felt like to have someone make a commitment to her. And it has served us. There is no doubt that our friendship will not fade away. We know that we will be available to each other at critical moments. A commitment was made.

This is the point of marriage and family life.

It is also the point of joining a faith community, when it is done right. A commitment is made to support one another; opting out is a last resort and not taken lightly.

I have had wonderful friendships and exchanges through email, letters and various internet connections, but without commitment, they are not community.

So that is my challenge to you. When you talk about community, whether it be an internet circle, a church, an extended family, or a neighborhood, ask yourself, is there the element of commitment in this community? If not, what would it take to introduce that element. Are you willing to make that commitment yourself? If not, I’m afraid the word community should not be used.

Commitment is what is meant by community. If community is to be part of the answer to the issues of our day it has to include commitment. There, I’ve said it about five times. I believe it.


About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
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4 Responses to 2014: Five-Year Plan; 3. Invest in Community

  1. There’s so much you’ve given us to think about here, Newell. “Commitment” is a word that has lost its meaning for many of us. Church members come and go, and in most churches you really don’t get to know other members beyond a shallow, surface relationship anyway. I thought I had “commitment” down, in being faithful and loyal and to my church and marriage, but both of those require reciprocal commitment, to be healthy.

    In the past few years I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and studying through the internet… and it seemed I found a possible solution, which is to live in a community where people are bonded not by religion but by common interests. A commune without being cultish. I see them on the Internet but I’ve never been part of one and have never seen one operate.

    I’m 52-years old and have been in church most of my life but I’ve never witnessed a healthy church in action, either. To be absolutely honest, I do have offline friends who have been with me through thick and thin but there are so many miles between us now and often months and years go by without us being together. My best friends I have found are on the Internet because we share daily time together… but we don’t have “commitment” so I can’t call that community.

    I live in a rural area right now, bordering the Cheyenne reservation, but I don’t feel inclined to build community here because I know we will be moving any day. I’m sorry to be writing so long here. This is something that has been deep in my mind and heart for a long time. You’ve brought it nearer to the surface. I’d really, really, really, really like to experience real community! And maybe that’s where it will start, simply with expressing the desire.


  2. Susan,
    The barriers you describe to community are very real and barriers we all face in some way or another. Yes, committment must be recriprocal. I have been lucky in my church affiliation to some extent. It is called church of the covenant, and we take covenant pretty seriously; at least some of us do. It is the heart of what it means to be a member of our church. I have also been blessed with a wonderful wife and two daughters who understand the importance of family ties as the foundation for community.
    I once heard John Bell of the Iona Community talk about their intentional community which does not live in proiximity. They meet quarterly, and in some cases, once a year, to renew their committments. Each person sets their personal goals, including how they are being financially responsible to the earth, and the community helps hold each member accountable to the goals they have set. This word, accountability, I did not mention, but I think it is also key. Anther key word is intenionality. I think we can form community in a number of ways, but to be effective, it has to be intentional, and there should be some understanding that there is periodic accountability. I think this could happen on the internet if others want it as well.
    SSo maybe I should rewrite my blog.


    • Susan Deborah Schiller says:

      Intentionality and accountability… I think you are right, it has potential for happening online. Beginning at the family level is what I’ve been carefully pondering for more than two decades. Family is the backbone of society. I am a Malachi 4 dreamer and believer, always looking eagerly ahead to the “family reunion” God promises, even here on earth. I believe we can get it right. That is why I’m eager to read your words, Newell, and I see you’ve written two new articles. I must dash out and catch up!


  3. Pingback: 2014: Five-Year Plan: 4. Live Simply | Newell Hendricks

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