At St. George's Episcopal Church, where I work as a Fellow, we have a big staff meeting every couple weeks. One of the staff members gives a presentation on a chosen topic, anywhere from sin to Catechesis. Recently, St. George's rector Leigh Spruill presented on community. Quoting John Bruin's "The Sociology of Community Connections," he defined community as "a group of people, usually in a given locale, who are consciously aware of belonging to each other in a way that is deeper than casual acquaintance. The group shares common goals, values, and practices, and membership demands some level of commitment and responsibility." Two distinct communities came to mind.
First, of course, was the Fellows community - both the Nashville Fellows and the greater Fellows Initiative throughout the country. The bond between the nine of us in Nashville this year is unmatched and unmistakeable. Our director has even noted that directors of other programs have commented on our closeness - on our awareness of belonging to each other. Bruin's definition is so apt it seems to be made for Fellows.
Surprisingly, I've found another area where I've seen community in even greater effect: the rock climbing community. Though I've only started climbing within the last year, anyone who knows much of anything about me is well aware of that fact. Climbing is something that has nearly enveloped my entire identity. There is so much to love about the sport. There's the physical challenge and the strength it takes to climb up a route. The obvious challenge of the next hardest route right next to you, and the one of many grades above you just across the way. Bouldering, top rope, and lead climbing - so much to be mastered, so tangibly near. And there's the mental challenge of the route right in front of you! How do I grab this hold, and move to the next? Can I actually clip that from here??
But most importantly, there's the community. I'm not typically one who's quick to make friends, but the number of people I have met through climbing is nearly astronomical. As climbing is typically done with partners (unless you're on autobelays, or Alex Honnold), it's a fairly good setup for meeting others. I've made friends with countless members and staff at Climb Nashville, and even convinced multiple coworkers to join the gym. The bond between climbers is one I've observed in many ways. The locale we share isn't just the gym on Charlotte Avenue, but also outdoor climbing locations - and not just their existence, but also their preservation and well-being. The belonging that we feel to each other is one of a common goal: sending the next route, whether it's 5.9 or 5.13. Our values are of an embodiment of the sport and of its tendency towards environmentalism - no matter who you are or from where you've come. Our practices are learned from and shared with each other because of our common goals - I know you want to send the next route as much as I do, so I'll help you as best as I can in hopes that you'll do the same for me. We commit to each other in our journey to better climbing, and hold each other accountable for being there and working hard.
I remember my Fellows interview a little earlier than this time last year, when I was asked for my own definition of community and how I've seen it in my own life. I vaguely answered something about how you can find commonalities with others and bond with them through that. Thankfully, this year has taught me that there is far more to it than that, whether it's where you'd most expect it (with Fellows), or least (with climbing). Either way, here's to community, and to an ever-continuing definition and understanding of it!