Theatre Church (part VIII b)

Last time I discussed the first question I’m still wrestling with. If you have not read it I’d recommend it before you embark upon this one (see ‘Theatre Church (part VIII a)‘ post)

Today I turn my attention to the second question: How does a community organically grow if it has begun by a forced introduction?

I was involved, before the summer break, in an event at the Cathedral. The idea was my tutor’s and he borrowed some thinking from his time in Gloucester Cathedral. As we prepare for the next meeting we met and reflected on the shape this ‘thing’ should take. We got on to discussing which should come first ‘event’ or ‘community’. In Gloucester, my tutor had an established community and took them into the Cathedral for an event; this then led to many other people being invited but at the centre was a community. In Durham, we discovered that we were presuming a community that didn’t exist. We had invited disparate individuals, forced them to be community and then did an event, this approached put an emphasis on sustaining community rather than invitation to an event.

I wonder, are my Monday night workshops ‘event’ first or ‘community’? In the beginning it will be an event. This is not an ideal. An event presumes no commitment apart from those organising and running the event. An event must be thought of as a one off; it can be repeated but the people who come to the second may not be the people who come to the first. An event is for people to taste or see something with no commitment necessary. This is great for some concepts and ideas and it’s manageable as long as the people running it know that each time there’s a certain amount of re-beginning. An event can turn into a community; I have seen it happen. People repeatedly come to an event and soon its an excepted routine, intentionally meeting to experience something together.

How does an event become a community?

Everyone hopes that an event will capture the imaginations and enjoyment of the spectator or participants. Some events are so popular that they have to be repeated and people come and bring friends to share. This is how events grow into a popular routine occurrence rather than a one off event. I don’t, however, want the amount of participations to grow necessarily. If 20 people turn up for the first event, then I want to deter some from coming back to the next one. This is completely counter cultural in the theatre world. I am limiting the number of people this will impact to be sure that some, long-term impact is made. My aim is clear; I want to be part of a gathered, intentional, committed community.

There’s going to have to be a certain element of ‘event’ in that first meeting but I am beginning to see the importance of personal invitation, of being true to what this ‘thing’ is trying to be and of not trying to be the biggest and most successful thing to hit Durham Theatre scene! As I run my four introductory workshops to practitioners the two weeks before the launch night, I need to be watching and seeing who would bring something to this community, who would commit, who would be passionately and honestly engaged with it. I need to be bold in my conversations and listening to hear confirmation that they would be interested and invite them to participate. This requires a Calvinistic predestination approach. Are only some people welcome? Am I to judge who’s in and who’s out? I need to rethink!

What is a community?

A community, for me, is a group of people committed to the support and development of the other members, a place of sharing and, ideally a place to call ‘home’. We have discussed commitment already but it needs to be more than just turning up. There needs to be an element of giving and sharing to the group; participation on a sacrificial level. I hope to explore the concept of ensemble work and encourage this to be lived out in the meetings. To introduce, early on, the idea of each week people bringing something to offer to the community. I would like, also, to break the individual leader focus and to create a flat or rotational leadership where I (as founder) don’t become the leader of the community but to place myself as a member of the community, not above or better but equal, to model true Christian discipleship whether they know it or not and to encourage them to do likewise.

I guess the only option left is to narrow the invitation and be bold in my explanation of what I imagine will happen. To state, from the outset, “this is going to be tough, deep. It requires commitment and a passion for exploration. It’s through this hard process that you will find great discoveries and participate in something memorable for you.” One would hope that with prior warning the invitation will attract only those serious and interested and then, hopefully, the initial event will quickly become a group of committed, engaged people. With this core of people, attracted by the same call, one can start to feed and sustain a community.