In a recent reflection Pastor Elizabeth wrote about the importance of community – knowing that we belong, knowing that we are loved just as we are, loving and caring for one another, sharing our journeys of faith together. My husband Jerry and I are very grateful for the warm welcome you have given us into the St. Simon community. We have found a spiritual home among you, friends with whom to journey, and we have experienced your gracious love and care. It is a joy and privilege for me to be joining you as your new Pastoral Care Coordinator.
Building community is not easy for our western society. We live in a culture which values independence, personal achievement, and self-sufficiency. We are increasingly distanced from our neighbors and extended families. We spend more time online than with people. Since 2011 Jerry and I have spent several months each year in Ghana, West Africa. Traditional African culture is quite different from our western style. Africans do not value or seek independence and self-sufficiency. Rather, they are immersed in communities of mutual interdependence. They choose to live together rather than in social or spatial isolation. While we westerners emphasize taking responsibility for ourselves, Africans focus on being responsible for one another. Showing solidarity with others in times of need is their fundamental way of life. For an African the lack of support and presence of the community in difficult times would be more painful than the cause of the suffering itself. Africans generously and willingly share their resources with one another so that no one in the community is in want. Their goal is not the accumulation of personal wealth, but rather that all in the community have their basic needs met. It would be unthinkable as an African to spend your resources on yourself when your neighbor is in need.
A basic tenet of our western philosophy is cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am. Our identities as westerners are grounded in our individual egos, our individual thought processes, knowledge, and sense of self. For Africans, the basic tenet is: I belong, therefore I am. Their identities are grounded in the communities from which they come. They understand themselves first not as individuals but as members of their family, community, and tribe. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes extensively about our need to empty ourselves, let go of our egos, and enter into a “unitive consciousness.” Africans seem to grow up naturally with this understanding of their oneness with a community larger than themselves.
There is something beautiful and profound about the Africans’ value of community and interdependence. As westerners we are reluctant to ask others for help. We don’t want to be viewed as weak or needy. We would rather be seen by others as strong and capable. We prefer to be on the giving end than the receiving end of our mutual relationships. But we have something precious to learn from our African sisters and brothers. We all deeply need and are needed by one another. And it is in sharing our joys and our sorrows, our doubts and our fears, our gifts and our needs that we find freedom and wholeness and abundant life. May God continue to mold and transform us at St. Simon into that kind of interdependent loving community.
Grace and Peace,