Loren B. Mead of the Alban Institute, an ordained Episcopal priest in the U.S.A. wrote something about Christian congregations that I think can be modified slightly and applied to communities. My thanks to Rev. Mead.
In a community that represents strong democracy –
1. Strangers meet on common ground
Can we dare to assume that strangers bring gifts, not threats? Can we think about the possibility of a community governed by the values of hospitality?
2. Fear of the stranger is faced and dealt with.
We do have fears about people who are not “like us”. We have all sorts of stereotypes, and prejudices, all kinds of stories about “others”. Can our communities be safe places, where we can reach across boundaries, where we can explore unfamiliar conventions? Can we enjoy a culture that is characterized by diversity; can we believe that diversity makes for greater strength for our community and for ourselves?
3. Scarce resources are shared, and abundance is generated.
Peter Block and John McKnight write about the “abundant community”. Can we shake off the fear that we are riding a downward spiral? Can we live and practice the politics of hope – the conviction that we are riding an upward spiral, creating a spirit of abundance sufficient for everyone – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?
4. Conflict occurs and is resolved.
The people of our community don’t agree about many things. Some of the conflicts are deep and abiding. But we need to live together, and work together. Can we be civil, even when we disagree? Can we build bridges, even when disagreements remain? Can we practice reconciliation as thinking changes? Can we forgive?
5. Life is given colour, texture, drama, and a festive air.
We should be celebrating our life, our community, our history, our work, our prospects. We need to be constantly telling a story about our community that is bigger than we are, not to exaggerate but to aspire to greatness.
6. People are drawn out of themselves.
Locked doors, barred windows, silent hallways and empty streets in the evening represent isolation. How can we, as a community, draw people out from behind closed doors and into community? How can we make hospitality and the public square so tantalizing that people want to be part of it all? How can we train people to be leaders in hospitality?
7. Mutual responsibility becomes evident, and mutual aid becomes possible.
Welcoming new neighbours, taking a casserole to a stressed family, in many ways we take responsibility for one another, because we know that personal responsible and mutual aid are the sure signs of a strong community.
8. Opinions are audible and accountable.
Modest political systems need to be opened up to courage, and candor, and accountability. They need to be opened up to participation by all members of the community. Communities need to acknowledge, and respect, the minority and the opposition.
9. Vision is projected and great projects are undertaken.
“Without Vision, a people perish.” Such visions can’t be only for leaders: they must include a role for everyone in the community. Powerful visions can’t shift from day to day: they need an enduring character that is matched by persistence. At the same time, they aren’t etched in stone: they are dynamic. Communities have a vision.
10. The power of people is constantly acknowledged, and people are protected against the vampires of their power.
Strong communities need checks and balances within and among all their governing structures, and citizens must be well aware of the checks and balances and how they work. The checks and balances are not only a guard against unwarranted assumptions of power: they also mark the boundaries of the space in which we enjoy our freedom.