One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.
By Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
The practice of welcome shapes both individual and communal choices. How do we extend a welcome? Why? it is easy as people on a quest for ethical and spiritual growth to forget the difference between community and individual choices. ln this quote, Vanier reminds us that welcome is more than just one person's kindness, although without each person's kindness, welcoming community might be more difficult to achieve.
The resources the community can have include combined power, group effort, and mutual accountability. Because they can only happen in conditions of working and moving forward together, these resources are all the more precious. These are the resources that allow our welcome to improve, especially in the way that they allow community to make space for new members, even members who might need support and care. The truth is that, at times, any community member may be the one who needs care; that's part of what it means to be human and in a community, bringing our vulnerable selves to the place where they can be loved and offer love to others.
Most people know that vulnerability is a common condition of being human. And yet, it is often hard for people to accept being welcomed. It turns out that being vulnerable can be a way in which people add strength to their communities. Ants are a good example of this. When an ant is infected with a fungus, for example, by an encounter with a dead or sick animal, and returns to the colony, you might think that they would be isolated from the group, to prevent the spread of the disease. Instead, the ants come closer and they all groom the infected ant. Two things happen from the grooming. First, the sick ant is less likely to die when the fungus is removed. Second, the entire group of ants benefits from the fungus being diffused throughout the colony. The ants do not have an adaptive immune system, but they all become more able to fight the specific pathogen they have encountered.
People are the same way, at least metaphorically speaking. A welcome that a community offers allows new people to come to it, not only for the benefit of the new people, but definitely also for the benefit of the existing community. The result may even be that every person in the community benefits, not only from the unique gifts of the new person but also from their challenges. One of the biggest challenges in beings able to receive these gifts is the fact that they signal change. The question is whether the addition of new gifts and experiences can bring the entire congregation to an expression of Beloved Community. Part of the answer is that it could, but only if you decide to let it.
Can we go beyond thinking of welcome as the kindness of individuals and shift instead to consideration of how a community can be open to others, share values with them, and make them a meaningful part of community life?