Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My tribe

I've had parts of a post floating in my head for a few days. Generally I like to write in the morning as I drink my coffee. My mind seems more focused at that time. Sunday morning, I was in the car, driving to church, when I was drinking my coffee, and I've not yet mastered multitasking that well, so the words ran through my mind, sometimes like those LED signs that flash messages. I tried to hold onto the words, but many of them wouldn't stay.

But I was thinking about my tribe. No, I'm not Native American or anything like that. I'm thinking more about a phrase that went around a few years ago, a phrase I'm starting to hear again in a slightly different context.

Background for this is probably not needed. We all know that most people no longer live with or near their families of origin. Craig's family is a bit different in that respect, as his sisters and mother (as well as his step-father and his three daughters) all live within fifty (or so) miles of each other. He's the odd man out, not just by being the only male spawned by these people, but also by being the only one who moved away and stayed away, about 300 miles away.

And I, like my parents, moved to not just another city or state, but to an entirely different region of the U.S. They had done the same, with our homes varying in distance from their parents' homes. The shortest distance (120 miles) was also the shortest duration (12 months), and most of the time we lived about two days' drive away from my grandmother. I live 750 miles away from my parents, and my brother is between us.

So finding a new substitute family, a tribe, is not an unknown task for me or my family. I've floated a bit in different tribes at different times: La Leche League was my tribe for years, when the children were small and breastfeeding. My church community has created much of my current tribe. And my fledgling neighborhood is trying, in fits and starts, to become a tribe.

There is intentionality required in creating a tribe from scratch. In churches, we use the words "covenant group" or "chalice circle" or "small group ministry" instead of tribe. And the meaning is different. A covenant group, a group of 6-12 people that agree (covenants) to meet together for a specific amount of time (twice a month for a year is pretty typical), allows participants the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level than can be reached in casual church contact. Conversations at meetings may be directed by a leader or by the group, or may just be conversation. But connections are made and deepened. And sometimes, with the right chemistry and time, a tribe is formed.

My church tribe consists mostly of people within ten years of my age. That was intentional at the beginning. We started meeting together in 2004 (I think....it was before we sold our other house). Years later, our group has seen its founder head to Chicago to attend seminary. Two babies have joined us, one by adoption and one by birth, and both were celebrated with baby showers hosted by our group but attended by much of the church community. Couples have broken up and new couples have come together. Wedding bells can be heard. Graduate degrees have been begun and (almost!) completed. Friendships have been honored and newcomers have been welcomed.

Interestingly enough, in addition to our seminary student, our group has nurtured leadership so well that two of us have been elected to the board (one as vice-president), two were asked to join the Futures committee (and one of them was asked to chair that committee), another member was tapped to join the Human Resources committee, and a former president joined our group the last time it was opened to new members.

Every fall, the small groups shake up a little. They open up to new members and participants who need a break can fall away. In speaking with the current leader of our group (by the way...if you're reading this and need a break, I can help you), it's clear that our group will change a lot this year. The new parents are busy and less available in the evenings. The people taking night classes are hard to schedule around. Things happen. And as we've added and subtracted members, we've seen shifts in interests. What worked for one combination of people may not work for another.

But it's fun to watch the group gel. It's fun to be part of that process and to learn and grow from what used to be a fairly random group of people, brought together solely by age group. Our group has become a vital part of our church community, a simmering pot of new leaders. We may spend less time discussing deep issues this year, but we'll still be doing important work. We'll be building our tribe.

2 comments:

Mom said...

Where are the comments? Are you and I the only two who moved away from our families and found out we had to be part of another community?

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