I’m a little reluctant to comment on family & faith community, because it is such a fraught topic, and is certainly not the only important dimension of community. But in my experience of building Christian community, my family’s history and character has been definitive; similarly the families of my co-workers in this sacred task. So here goes…

Most people do not want to build community, or even love others (with the consequence of community). Many, even most, people who are involved in Christian community ventures are attempting to compensate for their dysfunctional family experience, or attempting to replicate their positive family experience. Another way of putting it is that many Christians enter community hoping it will either replicate or heal their experience of family. This is particularly so when we are doing it for the first time. I had no initial fears of community as my family was strong, stable and secure…but the community certainly wasn’t. Others entered it hoping it would heal their wounds, yet carrying an underlying dread of the connections and trust that are necessary for community. Our way of being part of community is inevitably shaped by our experience of biological family life (good and bad). When someone is unhappy with an experience of community life, it is often because they are expected it to be the family they desire. For example, a young adult I lived with expected our community to be completely accepting and inclusive, as his family had failed to be. We failed also unleashing scathing criticism and judgement.

This dynamic is made tense by the fact that some aspects of community life are family-like, but not identical to families. Such communities as mine (covenanted, relational, intentional, missional) are not families in the biological or nuclear sense that most have experienced. It is not even like an extended family of the stereotypical Mediterranean variety. The sooner we realise this the better; then we can stop expecting our communities to be the family we wish we had, or the family we want to replicate.

So why did God create family? Not simply for the extension of the human race, but to guarantee that we would always possess an indissoluble link with others that can never be absolutely disowned. I can separate myself from community, reject my faith, cease contact with others; but I cannot ever rid myself of my blood which writes itself indelibly into my self. God made us so that we need connection with others, and gives us at birth a link not only with 2 parents, but with their parents and so back through the ages we have connections that we can’t break and more importantly, that we do not have to build ourselves. This is God’s grace at work – we cannot create these bonds; they are given to us. This is where the dynamic of family and Christian community really overlap. If, in community, we realise that God has gracefully created bonds of blood between us, then trust flows more easily – it has been given to us. The regular eucharistic command to partake of Jesus’ body and blood makes sense here: we are taking Jesus blood and body into our blood and body and so becoming one body, one blood, one family. It is only to the extent that Christian community is united to Jesus that we can truly call each other sisters and brothers in Christ.