Defining Community

I want to thank everyone for contributing to such a great dialog in response to my last post, "The Language We Use." Many of you had great comments and questions. Several of you had mentioned that "community" was harder to define than "family." I've given some thought to this, and here is what I've been thinking.

When I think of the word community, the words togetherness, connections, and gatherings come to mind. Just for fun, I looked up the root meaning of community and found it is derived from a Latin word commūnitās or commūni which means "common." How perfect is that? It's what we have in common with one another that brings us together.

So I have a church community, a local community (my town), my original community, and my Vermont community. In each of these cases, there is something that I have in common with the other people involved, and some reason why we came or come together.

I have often said that every community has some kind of cohesion if it is to survive. And I think the level of commitment we make to a given community is commensurate with the cohesion of that community.

It's hard to have the sense of community the Amish have. Everyone in a given church district is expected to follow the rules of the Ordnung. That level of commitment or self-sacrifice makes for a pretty strong cohesion.  Most of us are not willing to make that level of commitment, even if it means having such a strong sense of community.

A Mennonite Cousin's Wedding

David and I once had a counselor who claimed that couples who have a common interest or a common struggle  stay together. So the word "common" comes up here as well.

I think that friendships are like that too. I don't have any friends with whom I don't have anything in common, do you? When we cease to have something in common is when we drift away from one another. I have some friends who are dear to me even when there are many miles between us. These are the kindred spirits in my life. Even if we are not in touch for a long time, when we do come together, we take up where we left off.

I had two friends spontaneously invite themselves over for an afternoon of playing Scrabble on my porch this afternoon. We had so much fun! And the bond between us deepened. One of these friends has gone kayaking with David and me (David and I were in a canoe, actually). And both of these friends are part of our church community. The more we have in common, the closer we become. I look forward to more such times.

So how do you define community?

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10 thoughts on “Defining Community”

  1. You generated a lot of discussion with your last post, Saloma. I don’t have much to add except this thought. Two other words with a similar root structure are “communion” and “communication.” The strongest communities share the kind of intimate or spiritual connection that we associate with the word communion. Every communication between two or more people either builds community or weakens it. This thought encourages us to use our tongues for the purpose of building each other up.

    1. Hello Shirley. Yes, that was a very healthy discussion, wasn’t it.

      You made some very good points, and gave a nice reminder to support one another on this journey we call life. Building community is important.

      Thanks for stopping by and offering your comments.

  2. Community is where I feel at home, where I can relax, where I can talk about my feelings and my opinions and I know that they might not be agreed from everybody – but everybody agrees to treat them with respect and tolerance.
    And – very important- where I can laugh and cry.

    I have two circles at the moment: One is my spiritual “family”, we met through a sufi-order and share lots of common opinions and views. And the other one is more or less un-spiritual, but highly ethical and I like this as well.

    1. Aurora, thank you for defining what community means to you. I’m curious… what is it you have in common with the people in the second group? My guess is that it’s what brings you together.

      Thank you for stopping by.


      1. It´s a collective, we “own” an organic farm together and meet on a regular basis. In german it´s called “Solidarische Landwirtschaft”

        1. That sounds wonderful. When it comes to environmental initiatives, the Germans are so far ahead of the United States. I don’t think of this as “un-spiritual.” In fact, I think of the everyday lives we chose to live as the very essence of our spirituality. Having an organic farm in common is wonderful thing.

  3. My thoughts are dancing between the last two posts on community and family. I like the school I teach at and enjoy working with my fellow teachers and while some there refer to it as family– I don’t. It’s a great place to work. That’s it. A community. I feel a closer kinship with my writer’s group, but they’re still a community. My writing community. Both of these communities are an important part of my life, but I would never refer to them as family. Community is a comfortable word for them. But my church is somewhat more challenging to define. Community, while that word holds warmth when I refer to the latter two groups, feels too cold, too distant in reference to my church. My church is so much more than a community, yet something in me doesn’t feel comfortable calling it family (like many in my church do). It is when I combine the two words church and family that my heart feels the relationship is appropriately expressed: They are my “Church Family.” Thanks, Saloma, for inspiring my thoughts with these words.

    1. Aleta, it is really interesting, what you wrote about how you define community and family. I am especially interested in the idea that the word community doesn’t hold enough warmth for the people in your church. I think of community and family being on par with one another in that regard. The way you described the first two groups… that is how I feel about all the various communities I get together with.

      Thank you, Aleta, for adding your thoughts to this discussion.

  4. I can relate to Aurora`s answer that community is where I feel at home. I am blessed to have more than one community circle. My church family, wonderful neighbours, a mom`s circle my friends that live abroad or near. All of them are very precious to me and make me what I am today. They are part of my family. Sometimes I have to say good bye to some one and but then sometimes someone else walks along my way and is joining me in my journey. I count them all as a big blessing from God.

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