I’m continually amazed at who feels they belong and who feels they don’t belong. Not because of any particular qualities of either group, but because feelings of belonging seem so unpredictable. This can be especially pronounced in a congregational setting because of our expectations of church.
Of course, some feeling out of place can be easy to explain. If I’m different from everyone else around me in some pronounced way–the language we speak, our racial or ethnic heritage, our interests and enthusiasms, our politics or religion–it can be very tough to feel bonded. When people ask me why our congregation is so white, this is an obvious part of the explanation. It’s hard to feel welcome if everyone seems different from you. Breaking out of those strong cultural constraints is not easy.
But so much goes into that feeling of belonging in a congregation or anywhere. Some people who appear very well-connected feel isolated and lonely, separate from the congregational community. Some people who rarely show up to anything feel a deep bond with the congregation. I can’t understand, much less explain, this disconnect between appearances and feelings. Except to say that feelings are based on a lot more than what goes on on the surface.
Belonging, then, is a deeply subjective experience. No one else will ever be able to feel what you feel or fully grasp what you go through. Yet, there is comfort in feeling understood (at least in part), in fitting in, in finding a sense of belonging. Comfort we all want.
So much of our sense of belonging depends on our childhood. Did we feel unconditional love? Did we believe we had a place in our family? Did we develop a confidence in ourselves that we could rely on when we encountered others? Did we find a sense of security in our place in the universe?
And if we didn’t find it in childhood, how did we seek it as we grew to adulthood? Or ensconced in that sense of security in childhood, have we searched to find the same as adults? Did it elude us? When we are children, we can expect others to create that belonging for us, but having grown up, our sense of belonging relies more and more in our own ability to seek it, to find it, or to create it.
In a congregation, that responsibility becomes mutual. Together, we create a place not only for ourselves, but also for others. We make room and make way. We offer ourselves to one another so that mutually, we belong to one another.
Such belonging is no easy matter. It takes awareness, intentionality, and mutual concern. I am so glad that in this congregation, people take care of one another–imperfectly, perhaps–but the effort is clear and the results show. We all have the job of creating welcome and crafting belonging for ourselves and others. Thank you for all you do to make this congregation a people of belonging.