The Importance of Community

The Importance of Community

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend my 10thhigh school reunion. I come from a small town in Vermont and we do things a little differently up there. Each year the town celebrates Alumni Day. Everyone turns out to support the newly graduated seniors and welcome back the classes who are celebrating their reunion. We have a parade in which classes enter floats and compete for prizes.

This year we had a strong turnout. The parade lasted a full half hour. My class had a proud first showing with a Sesame Street themed float. Dressed up in costumes, we rode through town and waved to the small crowd.

I know this sounds—at best—hokey. It’s an old tradition, and rightly so. The local High School has been graduating classes for 145 years.

But the parade, bedsides being good entertainment for area children, serves as an important reminder of the value of community. As I sat on a hay wagon, slowly rolling down the street, I saw the many faces of people who loved, supported, and shaped the person I am today. Some of them barely knew me in reality, but they were delighted to support the efforts of the many children who have passed through this community.

These folks—teachers, neighbors, church members, coaches, librarians, and parents among them—bought candy bars from me so I could go on field trips and explore the world beyond our small state. They (mostly) tolerated my first acts of political awareness, when I lobbied our Town Select Board for a smoke-free zone around my elementary school. They turned out to applaud my classmates during the Grand March at our high school prom (the rural equivalent of a cotillion). And then cheerfully sent my graduating class on its way to college or to work.

This sense of community, the gift of so much care and concern, so permeated my childhood that I barely noticed it. I was hardly aware of the many hands that advanced me along the way.

Unfortunately my town, like many others throughout the country, is struggling. And this struggle impacts our current students most of all. Shrinking budgets and tax revenue have chipped away at the supports that were important during my time as a student. Music, foreign languages, theater, even funding for sports teams—all items that don’t appear on standardized tests but were essential in shaping my life—are being cut.

I am a better person, making a stronger contribution to our world, because of the small town I came from. Schools are the heart of communities like mine.

My town is not unique in its struggles. Our story is the story of communities throughout the country. We are at a crucial moment. We need to recommit ourselves again and again to supporting the schools and children in our midst. We live out our commitment to these schools through our vote, our tax dollars, and our volunteer efforts.

It was delightful to have a weekend dedicated to reunion, not just with my classmates, but with the many important people from my past. And it served as an important reminder: we must be intentional in celebrating this community, as we did during Alumni Day, but also in protecting it.

The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States.  Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation.  UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.

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