Community is Messy: Is Your Organization Comfortable with Uncomfortable?

The blog this week was written by Deborah Warfield, Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. The Arcadia Institute is “making it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community.” One of the ways in which we go about accomplishing this mission is to participate in community building. We continue to grow alongside other organizations in Kalamazoo who also embrace our mission. However, one thing we have found is that building community is messy.

As for me, community building began at home. Growing up in a family that valued community, it wasn’t an option not to be willing to be my brother and sister’s keeper. Upon the knock of our door, our living room would become transformed into an area for a wake, a parlor for a wedding, a bed and breakfast for a traveling preacher or civil rights activist and sometimes an overnight shelter for a single mother and her children or a detox couch after a night gone really wrong for a wayward man looking for a safe place. Community building was up close and sometimes way too personal for comfort.

Being willing to go through some messes are a definite prerequisite for community building. According to Heather Zempel “Community is messy because it always involves people, and people are messy. It’s about people hauling their brokenness and baggage into your house and dumping it into your living room. What do you do at that moment? The moment you realize that the people you’ve committed your life to are messy becomes the defining moment of your leadership”. (Community is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry)

In my experiences as a community-builder, in order to get to the moments of warm fuzzy, one must be willing to go through some blood, sweat and tears. Unlike childbirth, with community-building ,you can opt out of the messy before authentic community is ever born.

The road less traveled has fewer people on it but the encounters that occur between those two passersby are guaranteed to be worth every step of their journeys. As we find ourselves maneuvering through this era of what I’ve referred to as “Across the Board Rototilling” communities are faced with opportunities to get messy and get more real than they have ever been. Organizations that roll their sleeves up, wipe their faces off, humble themselves and open up to alternative ways of being, stand a better chance of not only surviving but modeling that other can be richer and even more sustaining.

The culture of okay ness with messy makes way for creating not only a safer growing ground but one that levels the power playing field and invites input from sources formerly silent. The Arcadia Institute approaches community building with a finger-painting approach that has yielded other ways of attempting to build communities where everyone is included. The stains on our fingers represent evidence of a desire to touch and feel as we create a different way of seeing and being that produces beautiful results. Valuing every member in a community that can be messy at times. Messy usually makes the average person uncomfortable. Comfortable is safe. Safe is secure. It is risky to go to places unknown as an individual and especially for an organization. Ask yourself, is it better to be safe or to be authentic? I contend that without a bit of the messy we limit our ability to get the best yield in our community. You and I both know that some of the deepest and longest lasting relationships survived enough messy to know how rich it is to get through and to the other side.