This is a personal experience about attending a Community Building Workshop by Peter Renner, a Baptist minister. He tells about the group dynamics he experienced in terms of a new way of looking at his ministry and at people. This workshop offered unusually high diversity which often leads to great community and did in this case. The sermon he gave about this experience to his church can be found at: Sermon link.

I was attending a four-day workshop about community. It was about community-building, and I thought, "we need that in our church." Except for breaks to eat drink and sleep, we sat in a circle for three days. We were thrown together from every walk of life imaginable, to seek to become a community that worked. And we did it !

Some people that attended included:

What may have been familiar territory to some, was new to me. I have been to hundreds of workshops, seminars and groups of all kinds, but nothing I had been to was like that weekend. I was happy to sit all weekend and learn while someone taught (I am good and very practiced at taking notes). They spent a mere hour introducing the workshop and all the rest was interactive, not much note taking. Given an agenda or a project, I could really get my teeth into a group. Because it was unlike anything I've ever experienced and I learned far more than I had expected!

I sat there for three days while people all around me raised issues of life that they were struggling with. Grieving over rejection by parents, loss of a sister through suicide, break-down of marriages and relationships and communities. Deep feelings of hurt through rejection, non-acceptance by others and oneself, inner hatred, struggling for self-acceptance, sexuality. There was self-rejection, self-hate, hate towards others and what society had dealt out. There was love and joy too, and lots of laughter. All the spectrum of issues and emotions came out.

I sat there trying to get a handle on it all. I sat there frustrated that there seemed to be no agenda. At times, I wanted to leave. Where was all this leading to? Where were the skills of how to build relationships together in this potpourri of humanity? Where others had come because of what they had read I had not. I was, indeed, a babe in the woods.

These workshops are the result of the writings and work of M.Scott Peck, a well known writer of numerous best-selling books. However, other than knowing his name well, and skimming one of his books and promising myself that I would get back to it, I had no idea where he was coming from. Now I do. Scott Peck's most famous book is The Road Less Traveled. The book that best explains what we experienced last Easter is, The Different Drum: the creation of true Community - the first step to World Peace.

 In this book, Peck describes four stages. He says, "Communities, like individuals, are unique. Still we all share the human condition. So it is that groups assembled deliberately to form themselves into community routinely go through certain stages in the process. These stages are:


Not every group that becomes a community follows this paradigm exactly. Communities that temporarily form in response to crisis, for instance, may skip over one or more stages for the time being. I do not insist that community development occur by formula. But in the process of community-making by design, this is the natural, usual order of things."1

I saw many things on that weekend. I saw that if I take a second look at people I discover more than what first appears on the surface. The way to respect one another is to take that second look, not with the eyes, but with the heart. But so often I don't take that second look because I don't think there is anything there to see. I saw that although we were all different, we were all the same. The same issues affected us all. Here we all were, humans struggling through issues, carrying hurts, joys, sorrows and anger, seeking meaning and fulfillment in life. There was so much common ground where, at first glance, I thought there was very little.

I took a second look, without prejudice and with a little time and emotional energy thrown in. That did not mean that I agreed with their lifestyles, or that I would adopt them, (some I considered destructive). However, I came, we came, a whole lot closer to respecting each other. I saw how I play it safe in relationships. I do not like taking risks. I do not say what I think so I do not get confronted. As a preacher I am used to standing before a group of people and having it all my own way for thirty minutes!

I saw that "I" statements are much more important than generalizations such as "we" or "us" or "them" and "those". To say "I..." is to own what I say, to speak for myself and not for others who may, or may not, agree. I saw all the stages of relationships that Scott Peck described. I experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions.

I saw pseudo-community: the nice, polite, superficial talk. I saw the chaos: the confronting, the anger, the hurts, the honesty. I saw the emptiness: the letting go of safety, of pride, of masks, to become real. I experienced the community, the coming together of this diverse group into one respectful body.

Yes, I saw and felt community. I saw that it's possible to be together from all walks of life and learn to appreciate and respect one another, to learn from one another, to share deeply with one another the things that have divided us and to embrace one another, both emotionally and physically. It's possible!

Peter Renner

April, 1997
1.The Different Drum, M.Scott Peck: Arrow Books 1990, pg.86.

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