By C. Alexandria Mangrum
Community, like a bed sheet, is seemingly thin and disposable. In fact, however, it is irreplaceable—winter or summer. Community systems envelop us, offering protection and warmth when needed, taking a background position when necessary, and sometimes becoming inevitably annoying.
Ten years of my life were lived in a tiny community of one-thousand people ranging from dot comers to aging hippies to conservative war-veterans. Eclectic. Eccentric. A good sampling of them gathered Sunday mornings at the Mendocino Presbyterian Church, a picturesque sanctuary on the coastal bluffs of Northern California. Ordained to lead this jamboree of personas was my father, Revered Bill Mangrum. Sunday after Sunday he stood up and taught the ways of God in exchange for their stories, concerns, prayers, insults and laughter alike. Thought I was very young when we arrived, it was not long before the people of the Church grew into my life as well, giving me the same joys and hassles as my parents. When roaming the village I knew there was nothing to fear for many of the shop-owners were parishioners as well; I was never far from a friendly face.
Nevertheless, in adolescence I wanted rid of this clan of yammering Jesus freaks who shared all too many of their sentiments and life advice with me week after week. Outside of church I had a life of my own, a life I thought un-influenced by the members of this spiritual community. However, as I soon discovered, town was small and the church members too entwined for me to escape their faces or their gossiping. No matter what, neither my actions nor airs could not deceive them. I was familiar; they understood me simply because they had seen my best and worst.
In time we move away. No longer did I have to separate who I wanted to be from the way I felt my previous community forced me to be. Little did I realize, however, how the familiarity they offered would be missed.
I have never felt as safe as I did sitting in the pews of our sanctuary. In that place I was surrounded by people who invested much of their time, energy, and prayers into my family, even, if at times, their investments were uninvited and exhausting. Today though I live even further away, I carry their lessons with me. I no longer ignore or scorn community because I realize how much those who care for us can shape us by always offering a helping hand. I try to support others, even if I don’t completely agree with or understand them. And, because of my community, I am slower to judge and gossip. However difficult life in a tiny community may seem, relationships there are no more adverse or avoidable than they are in the larger world. Though, like the ever present bed sheets, community envelops our lives till death do us part.