Community is an odd thing. Sometimes we have a big hand in creating it. Other times it just forms around us.
I am lucky enough to have lots of different communities that give me focus, purpose and support. Some have always been there. A core of family and friends has seen me through lots of times, both good and bad. My work community is ever evolving, but it has been there for me for more than 37 years.
And then there are communities that have sprung up because of my interest in dog sports, camping, hunting and fishing, scrapbooking, reading, outdoors and church.
And still more — including the community around this blog — that have formed because of my husband’s death from pancreatic cancer in 2010.
After Jim died, I found myself part of a loosely assembled community of widows from my church. It was a group with no boundaries of age or social status. We were all Christians and all widows, just trying to make sense of the loss of our mates and how we would go on. We gathered for dinners, shared stories, and often sat together in church.
The group gave me a sense of belonging in the time immediately after Jim’s death when I didn’t know where my place was any more.
Some members of that group have passed on to be rejoined with their mates — at least in my belief system — and the frequency of gatherings has dwindled to nothing. Those of us remaining find ourselves sitting together occasionally in church services, and some of us have become part of a different informal group of church women — the “church ladies.”
The “church ladies” evolved from individuals’ associations through boards and activities at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor. Its informal gatherings are open to any of the women in the church, but those who attend regularly tend to be middle-aged, professional women. We meet once a month for dinner and conversation, moving around to enjoy different restaurants in the Greater Bangor area.
There are usually 10 to 15 of us. Teachers, a doctor, a chef, a Realtor, a minister, business women and more who are mothers, grandmothers, aunts, wives, widows, singles and friends. We talk about our jobs, our families, our church life. Many of us come from different geographic and church backgrounds.
We laugh at each other’s funny stories, offer support to each other in times of stress, and before we part from each other’s company, we decide on the next meeting place.
I admire the women in this group, and feel privileged to be part of them. I think it’s because they are always people first. Their professional status, income level, social status and education level never enter the doors of the restaurants we visit, and we relate to each other in our faith and as human beings.
We share similar values and passion for the things important to us, but easily admit to our similar failings, insecurities and misgivings.
The raw honesty and Christian faith in this group of women form our bond, and our support of one another reaches beyond our monthly gatherings.
I watch these women as they laugh and joke and tell stories around the restaurant tables, and think about what a force they are in our church and in our community. They — and so many other women like them — represent and are the heart of both.
These women lead through example. They take on the social injustices in our community and state through service and selflessness. They heal and feed bodies and minds. They support arts and culture and business. They guide their children and grandchildren toward rewarding lives.
They care for aging parents, and aging parishioners alike. They help with celebrations and funerals, fundraisers and mission work in the church, all while keeping their families flourishing. They have worked together and apart, and you might recognize some of their names.
But if you were to ask any one of them how they do it all, every one of them would humbly deny doing anything extraordinary. Yet each is extraordinary because they have managed to keep their humanity, and to share their individual gifts with their fellow human beings.
I have learned important lessons of humility, humanity, friendship and love from these women. They have enfolded me into their special community, and I am blessed to be part of them. A special gift indeed.
At each dinner gathering, we usually ask our wait staff or someone in the restaurant to take a photo of our group, which we promptly post on Facebook. The person taking the photo inevitably asks us who we are, and we proudly answer:
“We’re the church ladies!”
Indeed we are, but that’s just the beginning.