Why a Village?

Posted by Rebecca Irelan on

Q: Why are we in the church always using the phrase, "It takes a whole village?"

         A: You often hear me repeating this African proverb because it captures something that many of us in the church feel has been lost in recent decades. As extended families like mine are scattered coast to coast and community organizations that we value are dying on the vine because no one has the time, money or energy to participate in them anymore, we are feeling more and more alone in our struggle with the soul-fragmenting aspects of post-modern life.

         Why is this so? Well, one of the causes for our feelings of isolation and disconnection is a trend that can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation but has reached unhealthy extremes today. The modern era could be called the Age of Individualism. It started out as a celebration of an individual's direct connection to God, what Martin Luther called the "priesthood of all believers." But these days we have made the individual into a god by promoting our own interests above all others. We see this hyper-individualism in the realms of relationships and religion, politics and economics. Sadly, we now live in an era of "it's all about me."

         The church is one of the last places where our culturally-ingrained self-interest is still being challenged. There was a time when most people lived in villages, on farms and in small towns, where they knew their neighbors and everyone looked out for each other. That communitarian spirit is hard to come by these days. But you can still find it in churches like Willow Glen.

         We say, "It takes a village," because we know that we cannot raise our families or grow in faith on our own. My parents live in Colorado. They weren't around to help me raise Kristen when she was small. I needed the surrogate grandparents in my church (my "village") to help me be a pastor and a mother and a doctoral student all at the same time. I couldn't have done it without them. 

         Even if we don't have children, we still need a community to practice the Christian virtues that we are supposed to be cultivating. How can we be generous without people who need our gifts? How can we be merciful without people who need mercy? How can we learn to be patient without someone who tries our patience?

         Our founder, John Wesley, said that Christianity is essentially a social religion. To make it a solitary one is to kill it. Because he spent his entire life organizing people of faith into communities, he would be the very first to say, "It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a whole church to raise a Christian."

         I hope that you'll join us for "The Village," a new monthly intergenerational church family event at Woodhaven. We will be celebrating all September birthdays on Saturday evening, September 21st.


Tags: village, individualism, communitarian, church, social religion, wesley