Finding a Sense of Community

Due to the perennial construction on I-85, we were a good hour later than we had hoped on our long 650-mile annual trek from D.C. down to Georgia. For the last hour or so our grandson who had slept much of the trip kept asking about our ETA. If we hadn’t been road-weary, we would have known that he and a friend were texting away coordinating our arrival like a pilot with the control tower -- we had after all been through the same drill the year before with his sister.

We could hear the growing excitement in his voice as James, our 12-year-old grandson, asked us to slow down so he could take a picture of the entrance gate to Indian Springs Holiness Camp Meeting in Flovilla, Georgia. His grandad, not quite keyed into what was coming down, stopped, thinking James would want to get a good angle for his picture, but James exclaimed, “No, no don’t stop; I got the picture. Keep going!” He was sitting on the edge of the backseat, clearly eager to get to our cabin to see the friends he hadn’t seen in a year. As we approached the cabin, he spotted his friends running to greet him. He urged my husband to stop in the middle of the road and jumped out even as the car stopped rolling. The drive suddenly didn’t seem so long and tiring as we our spirits fed off their excitement as they yelled greetings and ran to hug each other.

After nearly a decade, it’s become a familiar ritual. Our grandkids count the days and keep social media hot all year long with messages back and forth among their friends. While there, they run from meetings and services in the open-sided, outdoor tabernacles to recreation to the book store and to “The Snackateria” for their insanely delicious peach milkshakes. They bring friends to the cottage for snacks, to play games and talk until all hours of the night.

Every day we see fulfillment of the hopes and dreams that prompted us to buy the ancient 2-bedroom cabin 9 years ago. That daily whirlwind of activity is the driving force behind our efforts to make the 13-hour trip and live crowded together for 10 days. We keep our sanity by fixing snacks and meals, washing dishes, and keeping the washer and dryer going to cope with all the wet clothes from the water slide, the trips to the lake, and the frequent afternoon rain which gratefully brings the temperature down for a few hours.

It is all a small price to pay to give our grandchildren a sense of community -- a place where they can be free to explore, visit back and forth with neighbors and relatives, feel at home and secure away from the hectic modern lifestyles with their threats to childhood innocence. At Indian Springs they have the joy of being among a community of people who care for them in personal, loving and generous ways; they can bounce in and out of our cabin and several other relatives’ and friends’ cabins, as well as all around the grounds with abandon. There they know the security of a community of loved ones – beyond family – who are invested in their well-being; who know and love them as unique and precious human beings with wonderful potential.  There they are exposed to a whole community of Christian believers who take their faith seriously and are authentic in their commitment to live out their beliefs. There they have the opportunity to become solidly grounded in the Bible and to be surrounded by other young people who are being nurtured and grounded in those same beliefs and moral values. In short, for at least a brief part of each year, they live among a community of Christian believers who are powerful influences in their lives. There they build memories similar to our own.

A decade ago experts like scholar Fr Harry Bohan at McGill University were voicing their concern about the loss of a sense of community. In a speech he gave on “Losing the Sense of Community,” Fr Bohan noted, “Community is the foundation of human society. Isolated we curl up and die.”  He pointed out the indications that societal pressures were “giving rise to a deeper search for tangible community, belonging, meaning and relationships.”  He was especially concerned that many people, having focused for so long on “the material/external world,” lacked opportunities for “meaningful spiritual growth.” He also worried about the “debunking of politicians and heroes, churches and traditions, moral values and past achievements” and the delusion that “we are somehow better, more honest, more trustworthy, more enlightened, more moral than those who went before us.”

Like Fr Bohan, we realized that our souls needed the nourishment of a community with whom we could retreat from the demands of our world and have our spirits fed – from inspiring preaching, Biblical instruction and singing as well as from the fellowship of other believers seeking to live out our faith authentically.

Indian Springs provides that and more!  Social psychologists McMillan and Chavis formed a theory years ago about how the importance of community; they called it the “Sense of Community” – which they described well in one single sentence.

Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”  (McMillan, 1976)

Indian Springs fits their description. (1) It is community with boundaries, both physical and spiritual, that provide emotional safety and identification. It is a place where believers can retreat to study Scripture together and to deepen their understanding and renew their commitment. (2) It is a place of influence where people care about each other, enjoy fellowship and fun together, and most importantly, worship together in oneness of spirit. (3) It is a place where the needs of people’s spirits are met. It is good to be among people who feel that such an investment in time and effort is worth making. At Indian Springs, people receive “an intangible sense of belonging, a support network, thoughtful conversations, and inspiration.” (4) In short, there is an emotional connection that is basically spiritual in nature.  This, according to McMillan’s theory, is “the definitive element for a true community.”

A number of studies advising developers of new towns have examined how new communities can best serve families. They concur that children, especially, need social infrastructure for well-being.  Children’s “happiness, health, development and life-chances” are affected by whether they can play safely outside, whether they have local social connections and can run around locally unaccompanied. Obviously, they have identified a major problem facing parents today; there are few places where children have those joys.  Indian Springs is one of those places where young children, pre-teens and teenagers, as well as college students, and young adults can socialize, grow spiritually and have a great time in recreation, fun and worship. Increasingly, we realize that we as adults also need that sense of community and that spiritual nourishment.

Like Stanley Hauerwas, we agree, “Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.” 

James and the other grandkids may not yet understand all the reasons they find so much joy and fulfilment from the long journey we make each year to Indian Spring Holiness Camp Ground. But someday they will look back at the time we spend there and recognize how those annual 10 days enriched our lives by being part of a community of old and new friends where by playing and worshipping together we renewed and preserved “the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”

Due to the perennial construction on I-85, we were a good hour later than we had hoped on our long 650-mile annual trek from D.C. down to Georgia. For the last hour or so our grandson who had slept much of the trip kept asking about our ETA. If we hadn’t been road-weary, we would have known that he and a friend were texting away coordinating our arrival like a pilot with the control tower -- we had after all been through the same drill the year before with his sister.

We could hear the growing excitement in his voice as James, our 12-year-old grandson, asked us to slow down so he could take a picture of the entrance gate to Indian Springs Holiness Camp Meeting in Flovilla, Georgia. His grandad, not quite keyed into what was coming down, stopped, thinking James would want to get a good angle for his picture, but James exclaimed, “No, no don’t stop; I got the picture. Keep going!” He was sitting on the edge of the backseat, clearly eager to get to our cabin to see the friends he hadn’t seen in a year. As we approached the cabin, he spotted his friends running to greet him. He urged my husband to stop in the middle of the road and jumped out even as the car stopped rolling. The drive suddenly didn’t seem so long and tiring as we our spirits fed off their excitement as they yelled greetings and ran to hug each other.

After nearly a decade, it’s become a familiar ritual. Our grandkids count the days and keep social media hot all year long with messages back and forth among their friends. While there, they run from meetings and services in the open-sided, outdoor tabernacles to recreation to the book store and to “The Snackateria” for their insanely delicious peach milkshakes. They bring friends to the cottage for snacks, to play games and talk until all hours of the night.

Every day we see fulfillment of the hopes and dreams that prompted us to buy the ancient 2-bedroom cabin 9 years ago. That daily whirlwind of activity is the driving force behind our efforts to make the 13-hour trip and live crowded together for 10 days. We keep our sanity by fixing snacks and meals, washing dishes, and keeping the washer and dryer going to cope with all the wet clothes from the water slide, the trips to the lake, and the frequent afternoon rain which gratefully brings the temperature down for a few hours.

It is all a small price to pay to give our grandchildren a sense of community -- a place where they can be free to explore, visit back and forth with neighbors and relatives, feel at home and secure away from the hectic modern lifestyles with their threats to childhood innocence. At Indian Springs they have the joy of being among a community of people who care for them in personal, loving and generous ways; they can bounce in and out of our cabin and several other relatives’ and friends’ cabins, as well as all around the grounds with abandon. There they know the security of a community of loved ones – beyond family – who are invested in their well-being; who know and love them as unique and precious human beings with wonderful potential.  There they are exposed to a whole community of Christian believers who take their faith seriously and are authentic in their commitment to live out their beliefs. There they have the opportunity to become solidly grounded in the Bible and to be surrounded by other young people who are being nurtured and grounded in those same beliefs and moral values. In short, for at least a brief part of each year, they live among a community of Christian believers who are powerful influences in their lives. There they build memories similar to our own.

A decade ago experts like scholar Fr Harry Bohan at McGill University were voicing their concern about the loss of a sense of community. In a speech he gave on “Losing the Sense of Community,” Fr Bohan noted, “Community is the foundation of human society. Isolated we curl up and die.”  He pointed out the indications that societal pressures were “giving rise to a deeper search for tangible community, belonging, meaning and relationships.”  He was especially concerned that many people, having focused for so long on “the material/external world,” lacked opportunities for “meaningful spiritual growth.” He also worried about the “debunking of politicians and heroes, churches and traditions, moral values and past achievements” and the delusion that “we are somehow better, more honest, more trustworthy, more enlightened, more moral than those who went before us.”

Like Fr Bohan, we realized that our souls needed the nourishment of a community with whom we could retreat from the demands of our world and have our spirits fed – from inspiring preaching, Biblical instruction and singing as well as from the fellowship of other believers seeking to live out our faith authentically.

Indian Springs provides that and more!  Social psychologists McMillan and Chavis formed a theory years ago about how the importance of community; they called it the “Sense of Community” – which they described well in one single sentence.

Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”  (McMillan, 1976)

Indian Springs fits their description. (1) It is community with boundaries, both physical and spiritual, that provide emotional safety and identification. It is a place where believers can retreat to study Scripture together and to deepen their understanding and renew their commitment. (2) It is a place of influence where people care about each other, enjoy fellowship and fun together, and most importantly, worship together in oneness of spirit. (3) It is a place where the needs of people’s spirits are met. It is good to be among people who feel that such an investment in time and effort is worth making. At Indian Springs, people receive “an intangible sense of belonging, a support network, thoughtful conversations, and inspiration.” (4) In short, there is an emotional connection that is basically spiritual in nature.  This, according to McMillan’s theory, is “the definitive element for a true community.”

A number of studies advising developers of new towns have examined how new communities can best serve families. They concur that children, especially, need social infrastructure for well-being.  Children’s “happiness, health, development and life-chances” are affected by whether they can play safely outside, whether they have local social connections and can run around locally unaccompanied. Obviously, they have identified a major problem facing parents today; there are few places where children have those joys.  Indian Springs is one of those places where young children, pre-teens and teenagers, as well as college students, and young adults can socialize, grow spiritually and have a great time in recreation, fun and worship. Increasingly, we realize that we as adults also need that sense of community and that spiritual nourishment.

Like Stanley Hauerwas, we agree, “Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.” 

James and the other grandkids may not yet understand all the reasons they find so much joy and fulfilment from the long journey we make each year to Indian Spring Holiness Camp Ground. But someday they will look back at the time we spend there and recognize how those annual 10 days enriched our lives by being part of a community of old and new friends where by playing and worshipping together we renewed and preserved “the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”