Community: More Than the Sum of the Parts

God seems to have designed “community” as the operating system for accomplishing his mission in our world. While many individuals and sectors have made great efforts in renewal and restoration, there is something that happens when people are committed to working together that brings unique power and depth to their work. I want to share an example and then invite some discussion:  

The Rosewood Initiative
Rosewood is in a seam between the city of Portland, Oregon, and its suburbs. It is the stitching together of the edges of multiple municipalities, schools, law enforcement jurisdictions, ethnicities and economic conditions. Rosewood has no real borders, no business district, nor any official recognition as a neighborhood. The ambiguity and fragmentation of the area lend little upon which to build a sense of identity, and yet the people of Rosewood share a space and see the area as their neighborhood.

Because of the fragmentation of the area, the shared paths and experiences that build a sense of community are not naturally present. A low sense of ownership and civic responsibility led to factors that were even less desirable for those seeking healthy community. Rosewood gained an identity characterized by drugs, violence and sex trade instead of as great place to live and visit. 

Pockets of Rosewood residents recognized the issues preventing the area from thriving as a health neighborhood, but lacked the influence, reach and know-how to make much positive impact on their own. A few pastors of small churches in the area were addressing spiritual needs within the area but were inexperienced in tackling other factors that contribute to a healthy neighborhood. Law enforcement representatives were frustrated with their inability to change causes of rampant crime and violence in the area. Community developers, social services and businesses also felt the futility of their individual efforts to make positive change for the common good.

Through some pivotal situations and interactions within the area, the paths and perspectives of local Christian pastors, police officers, community developers and property managers were merged with common concern for their neighborhood. While they all continued to effectively serve the neighborhood within their respective areas of expertise, they began to work together in an attempt to understand how to improve the Rosewood neighborhood. Through this mode of collaboration they deliberately spent time listening to neighbors about their lives in Rosewood. They discovered that there was very little bringing residents into meaningful contact with each other. In Rosewood, there weren’t the relational connections being made that typify healthy communities. This discovery compelled the group to work together to take responsibility to vitalize their neighborhood. They formalized their concerted efforts by creating the Rosewood Initiative.

Rosewood Initiative’s mantra is “Building our community together.” They have local community partnerships with entities and people in business, government, public safety, non-profit agencies and churches. Through the initiative they are dedicated to making the Rosewood neighborhood  a desirable place to live, work and play. Their mission is to build a safe, healthy, respectful, vibrant and inclusive community that brings prosperity to everyone in Rosewood. They are empowering community members to drive meaningful, and positive change in partnership with agencies across state, county and local jurisdictions. Residents and businesses connect with one another to align resources and achieve shared goals. They are utilizing strengths in the community to build a positive image and future for the common good of Rosewood.

Rosewood Initiative established a physical space in the community in which activities and programs can be shared. It serves as a center of community life. It has also created and supported initiatives, including a community garden, art & music opportunities, health & fitness activities, employment services, small business training, cultural expression and English-as-second-language training – all in the name of gathering people to build community together. Through the Initiative the neighborhood is working in community to initiate community to enhance community.

The Rosewood story is not fully written yet and it may not be perfect. They still struggle with conflict, brokenness, and messiness. But, because they have stepped into community together, the kingdom is tangibly being built right there in their neighborhood. People of faith maintain their spiritual values and practices while joining together to pool their resources and experience with others for the common good of the community. Not only is community being built but community is bringing renewing to Rosewood as no individual person or sector could.

So, can we get a little conversation going here?

  • Why do you think God chooses community as the operating system through which his mission is accomplished here in our broken world? 
  • How could followers of Jesus, functioning together as the body of Christ, uniquely remove obstacles to holistic well-being within a neighborhood, town or city?

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