It Takes a Village to Make a Church: Part IV

Forming intersections

It would be a small village, let alone a modern town or city that could sustain itself within the narrow confines of religious employment, as described in the previous article (Click here)

A vast majority of the ecclesia must find employment elsewhere. The ecclesia will buy cars, purchase homes, pay utilities, shop, dine, and recreate in ways that have little or nothing to do with the religious institution of the Church. Certainly, they will do so as Christians, asking a blessing before eating dinner, praying before buying a car, etc. At one time, in the natural community and perhaps even now in isolated villages in Greece or Afghanistan, one might be assured that all car dealers and bartenders were of the same religion, but for virtually all who live in our globalized community, the chance of this is infinitely small. In other words, our lives outside the liturgical services will rarely intersect. I think this is a problem, both for us and especially for our children. More than any other factor, I believe it is intersectedness that builds community, that makes the ecclesia possible, and that creates a sense of “place” for which our children might stay. 

Intersectedness can be easily visualized by imagining that each individual has a string with which they use to weave the events and activities of their daily life. As each individual person weaves their life, they intertwine or intersect with the threads of other people’s lives. Person A encounters person B at church on Sunday: there is one point of intersection. If person A and B also interact at the same place of employment, these intersections are multiplied. Person A and B, let’s say, have children. Person C teaches person B’s children at their local school, thus forming another intersection between A, B, and now C. It follows that the greater the number of intersections that individuals possess with one another, the greater their intersectedness.

Three factors  contribute to intersectedness: frequency, consistency, and proximity. 

Frequency simply means that the more frequent the intersections with the same people, the greater level of intersectedness. Someone that we work with five days a week, even if we share little else in common, will naturally have a greater level of intersectedness than someone with whom we might share the same faith, but with whom we interact only on a weekly basis. Our children interact with their school peers and teachers for 32+ hours a week for much of the year. Their intersectedness with one another will be far greater than that which can be nurtured in a thirty-minute Sunday school lesson or a few minutes on the church playground.

Consistency has the effect of water upon a stone. One may find the intersection with another person repulsive, difficult to sustain, having little in common. But, over the course of years, the intersections have been so numerous and consistent that we find that we have grown accustomed to this person, almost attached. This occurs frequently in work environments in which quite disparate people are thrown together for a common task. Sparks fly at first, but eventually a certain level of community is produced. Shared experiences bond a group of otherwise polarized people, creating a sense of camaraderie, of being an “insider.” The 1946 film, “The Best Years of our Lives,” comes to mind as another example of how the shared experience of military service during the Second World War can form a deep intersectedness and upon which outside voices can have even a strengthening effect.

Neither frequency nor consistency are possible without proximity. If we wish to form frequent and consistent intersections within the ecclesia, it is necessary that we live close to one another. We may all possess the best of intentions related to forming more frequent and consistent points of intersections, but if we live many miles from one another, this is simply impractical. The reality of our lives, even with the convenience of modern transportation, is that the majority of our daily intersections take place within close proximity to our homes. Our children are either homeschooled or attend a local school district. We shop at nearby stores, patronize nearby restaurants, and locate employment likewise. Yet, how many church communities consist of families that drive thirty minutes or more from every point of the compass. The possibility of an intersection outside of the church is minimal if not improbable in these cases.

Such intersections are valiantly made by well-meaning parents, desperate to have their children interact with other children of the same religious and cultural paternity. Yet, can there be much hope that a lasting intersectedness can be formed when such courageous intersections are so infrequent and inconsistent? Is it not much more likely that our children, separated by distance, will form other intersections with those who mere proximity presents with exponentially greater frequency and consistency? Alas, I can think of several examples in which this proved to be the outcome.

What if our children not only intersected with other children at church, but with these same children at their local school, at the local market, at their best friend’s birthday party, at their father’s place of employment, at the festal vigil on Tuesday evening, and at their parent’s literary club on Friday? The number of intersections are hard to count. What if these intersections occurred year after year, decade after decade? Can the degree of interconnectedness even be measured? What if proximity was not measured in miles but in the minutes it takes to walk (yes, walk) to a friend’s house, to church, to school? Time will have the last word, but I am convinced that a child, whose daily interactions are with children and adults that also form the ecclesia of their liturgical assembly, will be less likely to break with these deep rooted connections. The same may be said of adults and communities as a whole. 

I distinctly recall a conversation with an Amish young man of the age of seventeen with whom I was milling lumber. Being roughly the same age, I asked him if he would engage in Rumspringa or if he had any thoughts of leaving the Amish community? He calmly replied that he had no wish to “sow his wild oats” or to leave off being Amish since all of his friends,  his connections, his livelihood, his purpose, lay within the Amish community. I have only to remember riding with him and his younger brother in their father’s buggy to note the proximity of his intersections, and from that to guess the frequency and consistency that welded his connection to his Amish community, and that gave him security, direction, and contentment.

Having grown up among them, I have no wish to idealize an Amish-style commune, knowing full well the gnawing of the surrounding culture upon their cloistered life and their propensity to be allured by its siren calls. However, I do wish to note that if we are in a panic over the exodus of our children from our churches, there is very strong evidence to suggest that such an exodus is largely a result of the choices we ourselves have made: we chose to construct our lives with little thought as to the frequency and consistency of our intersections with our local ecclesia beyond the obligatory Sunday morning. We chose careers, schools, and hobbies that had little chance of intersectedness with fellow Orthodox Christians. We located our churches in comfortable, suburban neighborhoods with sprawling parking lots, where everyone would have to drive twenty minutes or more, and completely prohibitive to walking. Do we still wonder why our children have such little intersectedness with the religion of their parents?

There is hope. What if we were to instead take a lower paying job, live in a slightly poorer neighborhood, in order to be in closer proximity to an urban church community, that might be, alas, of a different ethnic heritage from our own. What if several families were to execute the same decision, encouraged by their pastor or priest, in order to multiply the intersections within their community? That would be a start. What if church administrators and bishops were to recognize the futility of sending young pastors to dying parishes and were instead to comprehend the exponential value of sending multiple clergy families that could together build up a genuine ecclesia and not simply a dispensary station for sacraments. What if our leadership were to realize that it takes a village to make a Church? That would be something, indeed.

Next Up: It Takes a Village to Make a Church: Concluding remarks (Click here)

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