Defining Community

By: Catherine Scallen, CVN Recruitment Associate

 “Community happened once we stopped trying to force it to happen”

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I had my first phone interview with Jon and Pete at Good Shepherd Volunteers (GSV), but I obviously wasn’t expecting to chat for over two hours. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had that venti coffee and that huge bottle of water right before jumping on the call. When I finally hung up the phone, I was sold. In a matter of hours, we had touched on relationship issues, theological musings, the pros and cons of a roommate who blares Shania Twain at 6 am, family history, following your passions, and my deep love for Justin Bieber, among other things. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, this conversation was a small example of what was to come in my year of service with GSV in New York City.

Throughout the year, it wasn’t unusual for me and other GSVs to meet up and switch rapidly from lamenting the subway at rush hour to musing about our personal faith journeys, supporting one another through relationship struggles, praising Katy Perry’s new single or analyzing the underlying structural inequities of the foster care system–ultimately rounding out the night with a communal interpretive dance to Robyn’s musical genius. In fact, it would have been weird if all of these and more weren’t touched upon at some point on your average Friday night out in Manhattan. We called this community.

At closing retreat this past July, we all roared with laughter looking back on our preconceived notions and expectations of what “community” would look like in our year of service. From cooking daily organic meals together, to all-nighters on the fire escape discussing feminism and God, to morning Justin Bieber dance parties, every single one of us had come in with our own personal concept of the ideal community intent on making that vision a reality. What we found instead varied from community to community, but was both more and less than what we imagined.

Cooking organic meals was virtually impossible with peppers running at roughly $6 a piece in New York, but scavenging leftover bagels from the neighborhood bakery became a regular occurrence. Our fire escape was too small for the whole community to sit on at once, but became instead a beloved spot for solo journaling and reflection sessions. Not everyone’s idea of a good time involved Justin Bieber on repeat, but we met in the middle at Carly Rae Jepsen.

Which is all to say—community happened once we stopped trying to force it to happen. Community was formed in the early morning when our fire alarm went off and we did what we had always been trained to do, and only after a solid 10 minutes of standing outside freezing on the sidewalk did we realize we were no longer in college, this was not a drill, and we had to figure out how to shut the alarm off ourselves. (Low battery, in case you were worried). It was formed during aimless wanderings around the West Village, with no particular purpose and no particular plan. It was formed over impromptu yoga outings, train delays, misread directions, picnics in the park, and spontaneous parades.

People keep asking me if I’m frightened or nervous to be traveling the U.S. on my own this fall, recruiting for CVN. I can now truthfully tell them that I’m not. I’m not sure what my new on-the-go recruiter community will look like, but I’m excited to find out. If the experience Erica and I had at our first fair is any indication, I imagine it will involve even more misreading of directions, wandering different college campuses carrying awkwardly large banners, and making friends with neighboring recruiters who are willing to share their candy. The beauty in community is that it is not permanent or strictly defined. 

Stay tuned to find out how I define community throughout recruitment season as moving on the road challenges my definition once more!

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