Post-college can be a difficult time for people to experience community. Colleges offer a ready-made community of peers for four years, and many of us develop lasting intimate friendships during that time. After graduating we move to new cities, or return home to cities that don't feel quite like home anymore. We are ready to pursue new careers, follow dreams, and start families. But for many of us, in a new place, or in a not so familiar old place, we can struggle to find meaningful employment, we sometimes feel we have to compromise our dreams for practical considerations. Others seek to find a spouse and start a family but can't seem to meet the right person. It is when we encounter these difficulties that the distance of our childhood or college friends can strike us deeply. It is in those moments we can feel so lonely, so disconnected, and so absent from any community.
When I encounter people in a place like this, one of the things I consistently hear is, "I just can't find a good community," or "I haven't experienced any community here." I understand these sentiments, I've felt them myself, but they are dishonest, and they won’t help us escape our lonliness.
Lasting community isn't something we stumble upon, it is something we consciously build. Community isn't only something we externally experience, it is something we are.
CBC was created to help build and grow Catholic community in cities throughout the United States, and I'd say we've been doing a pretty good job of that. CBC host wonderful community events, but the events themselves are not community; they are a means to community.
Simply attending a community event like a CBC meetup can be a social experience, but if your communal interactions do not go beyond large social events you will never find true community. I know many people who attend young adult event after young adult event and still experience profound loneliness. CBC and many other Catholic young adult ministries and outreaches are often lumped together and then called the “(Insert City Name) Catholic Young Adult Community.” But I would say the events, ministries and outreaches are not the community, the people are.
The simple dictionary definition of community is a group of people living in the same place or having similar interests or characteristics in common. Under that definition, yes the "(City) Catholic Young Adult Community" is a community because it is people living in the same city, who share the same characteristic and interest of Catholicism.
However, community is much more than being in the same place at the same time and having similar interests. The heart of community, as my fellow blogger Kyle Sellnow recently expressed, is love! To love is to know, and to be loved is to be known. This is the proper end of community. If however, all we ever do is attend large social events and engage in mindless chatter, if we don't really get to know each other, we will always end up walking away still feeling a sense of loneliness.
This is why I prefer the ecological and biological definition of community, a group of interdependent organisms growing or living together. I like that, "interdependent!" That lends more gravitas to community, and rings true for the body of Christ, the Church. "There are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you,' nor again the head to the feet, "I do not need you.'" (1 Corinthians 12:20-21)
We are a community in Christ and we need each other. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one of us suffers loneliness, when I am isolated, that loneliness impacts the entire body of Christ. So, wherever you may be, whether you are the person that knows everyone, or you are the person that knows nobody, commit to being a community builder. Don't walk idly along, naively thinking the community you have will always be there, or without action hope that community will come your way. We need to build community every day. That means deepening relationships we have, and encountering new people. It means welcoming outsiders in, and not being afraid to let an insider leave on a new mission.
If you feel like you do not have community, don't run, community will never overtake you. Instead DIG! Dig where you are. Encounter those around you. Maybe they aren't the same type of people you were close to in college, but they are beautifully and wonderfully made, and if you encounter them, if you seek to know them, you'll be surprised to find that they will get to know you, and you will experience love.
A lot of good conversation happens at CBC and other young adult events. These events are good. But we can’t expect them to solely satisfy our need for community. We need to meet in smaller groups as well throughout our day-to-day. We need to get involved at our local parishes as well. When you are at the next big event, try making plans to continue a conversation with someone at a later date, or plan a brunch. Schedule something and follow through. It is those interactions and choices you make that will truly build community.
Stop looking, start building!
If you've been a long-time reader, you know Kyle and I like this topic a lot. For more practical ideas for how to build community you can read Kyle's articles 4 Steps to Creating Community That Matters, or Avoiding Frenzied and Lonely. You can also read a previous article of mine, 7 Ways to Start Having Conversations that Matter.