It is a normal part of our human existence to feel more comfortable and emotionally connected with some people, and less so with others. Perhaps this is a human pattern (“birds of a feather flock together”), or merely a factor of time and a limited ‘band width’ to maintain more than a few close friendships at a time. Whatever perspective we may have about why this is true, within a group of people there will be those with whom we feel a closer connection than others. Within a church this human reality can have a significant impact on our shared ministry; if our friends are excited about the upcoming picnic, we are more likely to participate. Again, this is a normal part of being human and a very positive aspect of being active in a church. It is a wonderful blessing to discover friends who share similar beliefs and with whom we have an ability to form lasting friendships. It is also true that opening our hearts to people with different experiences, and perhaps different perspectives may deepen our understanding of God’s mercy in our lives. My hope is that each member of St. Peter’s in the Woods will discover other parishioners with whom they can be in meaningful relationships, inside and outside of our scheduled church events/programs.
In terms of our relationships with one another, it is important to recognize the difference between a clique and a close-knit group. A close-knit group within the church will feel vibrant and life-giving to the members of the group as well as to the larger church. Hopefully we have all experienced what it is like to walk up to a group at coffee hour, engaged in a meaningful conversation, who widen their circle and invite us to join in the fun. Unfortunately, we may also have experienced the awkwardness of walking up to a group who make no attempt to welcome us or include us in a conversation…or worse, who openly make plans for lunch without extending an invitation or an explanation of the exclusivity.
At St. Peter’s in the Woods we are part of a faith community; a group of people who worship God together and seek to serve God together. It is important that we form friendships with one another that add meaning and value to our lives; loving our neighbor is at the heart of everything we do! It is equally important that we stop from time to time and take note of our relationships within this community. Are we open to making new friends, developing meaningful relationships with more than a prescribed group of people? Do we feel that we have enough friends so someone else should talk to ‘them?’ People often cite time constraints or platitudes (“you just can’t be friends with everyone”) as justification for the existence of cliques. However, our resistance to opening up our groups or forming new friends may be a fearful response (I’ve been hurt before and I feel safe with this group), or have to do with a feeling of power (I’ve been here a long time, the newer people need to do the welcoming now), or some other feeling that is not born out of our shared commitment to live for Christ.
When we stop to think that the Holy Spirit is alive in our midst, is drawing people to join us in worship, is guiding us to meaningful ways of living out our faith, each person who attends at St. Peter’s in the Woods is part of the fabric of this work. By remaining isolated, or even imprisoned, in our cliques we will miss out on moments of delight and of challenge in which we encounter the reality of God in our midst.