We live in many communities, some chosen and others not. Beloved Community, which many of us find at Cincinnati Friends Meeting, is something else. Something apart and, perhaps, beyond words. We recently gathered after worship for a spiritual-nurture time of reflection to share our experiences, roughly captured here in participants' own words. We began with Thomas Kelly’s description of Beloved Community in the Quaker classic, Testament of Devotion:
Being drowned in the overwhelming sea of the love of God, we find ourselves in a new and particular relation to a few of our fellows … one surprising and rich … in which a new-kind-of-life sharing and love has arisen of which we only had dim hints before.
Family, where we start out, is not chosen community, but we do find love. Friends are chosen community with bonds of love. Cincinnati Friends Meeting also has a sense of being chosen by a bond outside all of us. Beloved Community is here because of an allegiance to the Gospel. We want to be together to explore and that is different from friends and family.
Beloved Community is inclusion and fellowship, working together, being part of a group of like-minded people.
That like-minded includes: kindness; love; accepting one another where we are; loving what is; listening to each other; safety; and acceptance. The essential element is a lack of judgment, that we can be vulnerable when we share. We try to understand the other.
A foundation of Spirit creates a sacred trust that allows us to be vulnerable with one another in Beloved Community. Beloved Community is love and care and kindness for everyone—each other and around the world.
There’s something about spirituality that is not easily spoken or shared or dealt without outside. Here it’s different. We are open to knowing this is Holy Space. There’s a sense of humility and a shared understanding about something larger. The spiritual enriches and expands our sense of what community could ever be.
I carried the weight of the world when I first came, but the embers of the light of Beloved Community awakened personal healing, a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. For me, Beloved Community is a relational aspect of seeking.
We wondered aloud about what supports such a community.
The greatest support is worship together. A gathered meeting is very special and we can only do it together. That is the essence of Beloved Community. Participation in structured committees holds us together when we think about our needs for the organization and personal, spiritual growth.
Quaker process is part of Beloved Community. The business meeting is Spirit-led—how we resolve conflict and make decisions in worship. Our process is like a circuit breaker that’s been thought out for decades and not experienced in any other part of my life.
Communication, a common sense of purpose, and a light dance with Spirit are building blocks. Safety, traditions, and principles above personalities create this space for transformation.
The gatheredness and transformation happening in small groups, committees, and retreats ripple throughout the larger community, binding us all. Centering Down for me feels like worship, the closeness of that group as close on Zoom as in the meetinghouse. Both are part of my life and community. Our fall Saturday get-togethers, where we could joyfully be together in the beautiful space outside, felt beloved.
We discerned how to handle conflict as a Beloved Community.
Part of the Beloved Community is willingness to be led by the Light during conflict, to understand and repair the ruptures in relationships, to apologize even if it’s not our fault [borrowed from Jim Newby]. The Beloved Community sets a tone of working on that. I will fail and I will offend and I will fall short [another Newby-ism], so I step up and stay in the Light. I am better at this as a result of this community.
Deep listening, compassion, and acknowledgment of wounding, by the one wounded and the wounder, are important in Beloved Community. If we don’t know someone has been wounded, how can we repair the damage?
Deep listening helps with whatever division if it is held in the Light. There’s something about recognizing that it is beyond my ability to solve … coming to a sense of I don’t completely understand ... that can become miraculous. People at different ends of things in returning to worship through Spirit come to a whole new solution, one no one thought of, that is sensitive to the corporate and individual concerns.
In community, there are people who irritate and I irritate some but, in Beloved Community, we hold that irritation as an opportunity for growth. It’s easy to love the lovable, but not always to see the invitation [to be] with [the] other. If we hold the irritation and our impatience in the Light, it’s where the rubber hits the road for me. It’s what transforms. It’s hard to name what brings us together, allows us to be together in humanness, irritation, and joy.
How do you respond to these same queries:
- In your experience, what is the heart of Beloved Community?
- What supports that community—spiritually, individually, corporately—and makes it accessible?
- When conflict arises, how can we deal with it as a Beloved Community?