**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 2, No. 10 October 2000
How do we get into this business of community-building anyway? For most of us, the reasons are very personal. I was recently asked to write a short article for a newsletter that goes to the donor base of the organization for which I work. It set me to thinking again about the factors that shaped my life and how I got where I am today.
In August 1981, our young family of four left our home area of Northern Indiana for me to further explore my calling into pastoral ministry. My wife, Nancy, had just given birth in March to our daughter, Renita, who joined her brother, Nathan, who turned three in May.
Before we left, we started the formal process of trying to understand Nathan’s slow development and odd habits. Up until that time, we accepted the standard cliche about every child having their own timetable or marching to the beat of a different drummer. However, the gnawing questions begged for some answers before we moved out of a community where we had developed relationships of trust.
It was hard to hear the child psychiatrist’s pronouncements that our son was “developmentally delayed for reasons unknown.” It was even harder to hear the words “possible brain damage.” We had no idea where we were headed as we moved out of our comfort zone and ventured forth into the big city of Chicago. From that time on, my life as a parent and a minister would be forever changed.
As I lived and worked in the city, I realized that the faith emphases of justice and community with which I had grown up needed to be translated into action, particularly for persons on the margins of our society. I also learned firsthand how hard that is as we struggled to find support and services for Nathan and ourselves, at some distance from our natural communities of support. Many times we felt alone. We wanted people to understand; yet we were puzzled how to explain our needs and accept help. How many times I thought about the fact that we were comparatively rich in resources of time, education, supportive families, and ability to access financial resources when we needed them in comparison to many of our fellow travelers in the social service system. I marveled at how those folks coped and ached when they lacked even some basic support systems that I took for granted.
It was in that context that I began to see my ministry as much more than preaching, teaching, and running a church. From my theological perspective, if God was relevant to this world of fractured communities and alienated people, then it was up to the church to shine the way by being a truly inclusive community of refuge and support. I began to see myself first and foremost as a community-builder.
Ah, but that’s difficult! Along with a few successes came plenty of failures. How ironic it was that I could help get folks of three major ethnic groups and two languages together, but I couldn’t get folks from the same ethnic group but different neighborhoods to agree on a common mission. In the end, the task of building community in the larger arena was taking its toll on the most basic building-block of community, my family.
Yes, family has its place and if you are like me, most of your holiday gift-giving goes to your family. Yet, consider these suggestions for extending community in your gift-giving:
— Donate those items you don’t use to someone who will use them. Better yet, instead of getting that newer faster model for yourself, make do with what you have and donate the best to someone who really needs it.
— Remember those community-building organizations around you who struggle financially. Challenge yourself to give at least a tenth and possibly even an equal value to those with special needs as you do to your own family.
In 1997, after full-time pastorates in two states, our family began searching for our next place of belonging. By this time, Nathan had been diagnosed with fragile X syndrome ), had graduated from high school, and was beginning to learn how to fit into the work world. I dreamed and prayed about the possibility of more than just another church to pastor, but a place where we as a family would all fit and have a place to grow.
The invitation to consider the Goldenrod Community was an answer to that prayer. Yet it was difficult as well. Although I was coming back to my home county in Northern Indiana, it was not to a small church in the city. Instead, here I am on this small piece of land in the Amish countryside, connecting with my barely recognized roots of generations back.
Nevertheless, this is the opportunity to take the next step in a community-building ministry that focuses on those most in need. Here, Nancy and I as parents can help to shape a more permanent home for Nathan and for others. Here, my ministry becomes even more down-to-earth and practical as a caregiver. Yet I also have the opportunity to model and proclaim a message that is vitally important to the church and the larger community. By working together as a community of faith and hope, we can provide a safe environment for our loved ones with special needs to live and grow and share their gifts. We can even provide that community for those whom we don’t yet know but will learn to love.
As the rhetoric of a presidential election draws to a climax in the United States, I am more convinced than ever that our ability to embrace in community those that are least able to advocate for themselves is the measure of the morality of our society. From my own faith perspective, it is the way we come to know God as we all gain further glimpses into the image of God in those that might otherwise be considered the lost and the least.
So on All Saints Eve, I invite you to look at the “holy ones” around you and give thanks for the gift of family and community.
Paul D. Leichty
The Goldenrod Community
“People Using Technology Building Community”