Faith & Community

When I appeared in Provo, Utah on January 4, 2001, I did not know a single person in the city.

There were a few girls from my high school somewhere on campus, but they had arrived at BYU at the start of the preceding Fall Semester, had already spent four months laughing it up and flirting with RMs, plus they were living in Heritage Halls, the on-campus apartment-style dormitories. I had been assigned to lowly Deseret Towers, 405 U Hall—and telling people that you live in “U-Haul” is about as pathetic as it sounds. The world my friends had shared with me in high school less than a year ago lay far behind us now and looking me up to welcome me wasn’t really on their agenda. I don’t blame them.

A friend from Salt Lake City whom I had met through LDSChat.com picked me up from the airport. I’d had plenty of offers from Internet acquaintances to help move me in, including a fundamentalist Mormon who had offered to drive up from Manti, but I had gone with Annelise because she seemed like the least creepy option. In hindsight, I probably should have aimed for some Y chromosomes. I had carefully packed as many of my belongings as possible into a set of four overstuffed, candy-apple red suitcases, and they were heavy.

The pastor of Rock Canyon Assembly of God knew that I was coming. I had initially written him a letter after reading the February 2000 Christianity Today article “A Peacemaker in Provo: How One Pentecostal Pastor Taught His Congregation to Love Mormons,” telling him that I knew I belonged at his church, and he had set up a ride for me so that I could come to church on the upcoming Sunday. Still, I didn’t really know him, or anyone else at Rock Canyon.

I also knew that, financially, I was on my own. I had spent the last six months meticulously saving my money for this move. My parents were broke and struggling to make ends meet themselves. There would be none of those “Mommy, Daddy, please send money” phone calls.

I made my way up to my new dorm, guitar case in one hand, the handle of a too-heavy suitcase in the other, wondering if I really understood what I had just done, removing myself so far from family, faith and friends.

Truth be told, my feelings toward my relationships with others have long been marred by trepidation. The abuse I endured at home while growing up was the start of it. The separation and almost-divorce that I lived through five years ago made it worse. Today I work in archiving for the campus library, a job where I spend my entire shift sitting at a desk in a well-furnished basement, sifting through and organizing unprocessed collections for researchers to use. No one else works down there with me, and it’s rare that anyone comes looking for me. I have few complaints about it.

Some days I think that “me, my Bible, my Jesus” Christianity looks like a pretty good deal. I’m the strong-minded, independent type, a woman who values her solitude. Besides, the fewer relationships I have in my life, the fewer chances other people have to hurt me. What’s not to like about that?

Only that the notion that we can be “okay” on our own is perfectly false. One of God’s first declarations on humanity was that it is “not good that the man should be alone.”1 (Genesis 2:18) For ages commentators have read this verse as a statement on the value of romance and marriage, but I happen to think its implications are more far-reaching than that. At the time of creation, Eve wasn’t just Adam’s wife. She was his community. For Adam and Eve, community and family were one and the same.

Other passages in the Bible confirm the human need for community:

  • Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (Proverbs 27:17)
  • And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
  • Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)2

A few weeks ago I responded to a post at MormonMatters.org, “The Single Mormon Girl and the Priesthood.” We all know I never miss a chance to complain about the LDS gender system, and far be it from me to disappoint.

Except that in this case, I genuinely did not feel like the author’s struggle had much to do with gender. Yes, she is a 40 year-old single woman in a church whose theology is terribly unfriendly toward singles of both sexes. Yes, the church’s gender policies can be discouraging to women,3 but none of those policies were the subject of her post. Instead she talked about her need, as a single woman, to call on the men in her life outside her home to give her a blessing since she lacks a husband to do it for her. “Can we bridge the ever growing gap that exists between strong and effective women who don’t ‘need’ a man, but require the priesthood in order to gain the exaltation we strive for?” she asked.

As I pointed out in my comment on the thread, it’s not just single women in Mormonism who have to call on people outside the home when they need a blessing. So do single men. So do most married men, for that matter. If there’s one thing I genuinely admire about the LDS church, it’s that the system is set up so that no one person can “go it alone.” Priesthood makes it so that women & children require the services of men who in turn require the services of other men. The home teaching and visiting teaching arrangement is set up so that every member of the church has an opportunity to both minister and be ministered to, and lay callings provide the average member with chances to be involved in running the church on all sorts of levels.

Something that a lot of Latter-day Saints don’t seem to understand is that evangelical Christians have an interdependent community of faith as well. It isn’t so neatly organized, nor do the expected roles fall cleanly along gender lines, but it’s there. Since arriving in Illinois in August, I’ve had other evangelicals minister to me in amazing and powerful ways. I had a student I’d never met before stop me on campus and speak a word of prophecy and encouragement to me, words that I badly needed to hear. I’ve watched students who barely know me readily volunteer to take my daughter from me and play with her so that I can attend my classes. I’ve sunk into a professor’s office and bawled to him about my struggles at home. The list goes on and on.

A little less than nine years ago, I was alone. Today the husband that I found at BYU and the daughter that we made together will attend the Christmas Eve service at my church with me, to celebrate the Advent of our Lord and Savior along with my fellow believers. Afterward we will come home and light all five of our own Advent candles, and our daughter will hop up and down next to the wreathe, pointing at it and trying to say “candle.” When school starts again in January, I will re-connect with the relationships that I have there: my professors, my fellow students, and my boss in the library. In the meantime, Paul and I will continue to visit with the members of each of our churches, including my visiting teachers.

I’m not always certain that I want all these relationships in my life. But I am certain that I need them.

May your relationships with your family, friends and faith community be rich and fulfilling this Christmas season.

————————–
NOTES

[1] All biblical citations come from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] I’ve only quoted these verses, but Paul’s entire discourse in 1 Corinthians 12 is relevant to the topic.

[3] Dear Defenders of the Status Quo: Don’t even start.

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This entry was posted in Christmas, church, Family by Bridget Jack Jeffries. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bridget Jack Jeffries

Bridget Jack Jeffries is a human resources professional living in Chicago. She holds a BA in classics from Brigham Young University with a minor in Hebrew and an MA in American religious history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church and a single mother of two. You can read more of her writings at www.Weighted-Glory.com.

20 thoughts on “Faith & Community

  1. U-hall… Ah DT…

    Did the elevator malfunction on the way up when you arrived? (I lived in V-hall in ’87-’88, and again in ’91)

    The Evangelicals who live around me are uniformly Christian in character. They look out for us and our kids, as do we theirs. They make it a solid street to live on.

  2. This reminds me of the somewhat cliche story of the log in the fire that cannot burn brightly without the fire provided by all of the other logs.

    It is so true that we need the strength and support of our community. It is equally true that our community needs our strength and support. I remember a teacher once telling me that we may never know the positive influence we have on others. It may be a kind word, or a simple smile, or an unplanned stop to say hello, but these are the things that can change a life and save a soul.

    Happy Christmas, Friends of the Blogosphere!

  3. I remember a teacher once telling me that we may never know the positive influence we have on others.

    This reminds me of a comment that one of my old youth leaders made on my Facebook page. He and his wife were serving as youth leaders at the Sumner Presbyterian Church when I began attending there at age 16, and they later left to pastor their own youth group. He said:

    “Btw, I’ve shared your first day at Sumner Presbyterian youth group with my youth groups over the years as an object lesson. So often, …I’d have kids tell me how moved they were and that you sounded cool, they wished they could have met you. Isn’t if funny how you are doing God’s work and were not even aware of it? [My wife] and I just started at a new church, and are now volunteering with their youth group (God help them); so at some point I know I’ll use your story again.”

    Well, he’s right. I had no idea that other teenagers have been hearing my story again and again over the years and felt encouraged by it.

    But he does have a point. I am cool.

  4. I love your article. I am so grateful for the community around me. My wife, my children, extended family and friends. It is truly not good for man to be alone. We are here together to give meaning to our existence. We learn to serve each other. We learn to forgive each other. And in all other ways be like Jesus to each other.

    One person described it like this. Try to describe what a half back does without referring to any other players on the team. Our relationships define the most meaningful parts of us.

    I am most grateful for Father in Heaven and His continued choice to have a relationship with me in spite of my mistakes. That His plan includes the community around me shows me His mercy and His wisdom.

  5. Great article, Jack. As much as I like being alone some times, it is our friends and colleagues who can pull us through some tough times. I’ll also add a thanks to my online friends whose words of encouragement have brightened days I didn’t think were dull. (And you’re in that group, Jack.)

  6. Thanks everyone. Glad you enjoyed it.

    I am off to my visit my cousin in Danville and if Psychochemiker gets really unlucky, he might get to meet me in person.

    See you all when I get back next week.

  7. So not fair for PC to meet you and not me! After all, I am about 45 minutes west of Danville, too. And I’m pretty certain your route is going to take you right past my house.

    Sigh.

  8. I have met Jack and she is tall. Yay for building real bonds with folks who previously have existed only in the Internet!

  9. As an update, Alex & Spouse, Jack & Paul and I had a nice meet up at IHOP. Sorry the rest of you aren’t sentenced to life in East Central Illinois…Otherwise we could have met up too.

  10. By the way, Harley is adorable (even when sick) and Paul is a fun guy (I’m almost done with BOE!)

    East Central Illinois isn’t as bad as PC makes it out to seem. He’s just a Pacific Northwest snob 😛

  11. Is PC from the Pacific Northwest?

    To others: Harley (our three-year-old) woke up at 2AM this morning vomiting and spent the next 4-5 hours vomiting every 10-20 minutes. So we weren’t sure whether to try and make the IHOP rendezvous with her being sick like that. We decided to try driving the 45 minutes from Danville to Champaign and if she threw up in the car, we would cancel.

    She managed to not throw up in the car on the way or in IHOP while we were eating, though she seemed like she was going to once and I had to make a mad dash with her to the bathroom. So she wasn’t her usual perky, chattering self.

    Paul and I were both pretty thrashed from being up all night with a puking toddler, especially Paul. But we are glad we made the meeting just the same.

    Back on Earth Comic is awesome. Panel 2 of this page is the story of my life.

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