Being a part of a spiritual community is vital for growing in your relationship with God and enabling you to follow Jesus in your day to day life. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it’s impossible to follow Jesus without being a part of some kind of community. Even cloistered hermits were/are attached to larger communities and many have a spiritual director or a confessor with whom they have regular contact.
But for many people finding an in-person spiritual community is difficult (if not impossible). Many are in places where there are no churches that are affirming of queer and transgender people. Many people are dealing with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or other things that make getting to and investing in a spiritual community difficult. Many have been hurt by the church and aren’t ready yet to engage with another church community.
I remember feeling like I had no place to go. I was closeted and living at home with my mom. I had to be careful what I had mailed to the house and my mom asked me where I was going every time I left the house. I didn’t want to have to lie to her and I felt like I had to be careful who I was seen with out in the community. I also had to be careful which books I was seen reading. This is before e-readers made it easier to disguise your books and before high speed internet made connecting across the miles easier. That isolation really impacted my spiritual life negatively and kept me from growing and from being spiritually healthy.
But what can you do? How do you create spiritual community when you are physically isolated? I have a number of ideas that I’ll share. Feel free to use these as a jumping off point to explore other ways to connect. A lot of these ideas rely on having the internet but even if you can only get to the library once a week to use their internet you can still use most of these ideas.
Find ways to learn and engage.
Yes, this is still a private practice, but you’ll be encountering wisdom from other people. Listen to sermon podcasts online from affirming churches (most have sermons in podast form on iTunes, others just post them on their website, either way many churches make things available either in audio, video, and/or transcript form).
Tune in to a church that livestreams their services.
You can watch from your home, but participate. While watching sing along to the song/hymns, say the responses out loud, participate as much as you can so it feels like you are a part of the community.
Reach out to the churches that you are listening to.
Send an email to the pastor and introduce yourself. Let them know you are listening in and would like to be a part of the community from afar. Ask if you can contact them sometimes. Most pastors will be happy to hear from you and engage with you in this way.
Give money to the community you’re listening in on if you can.
Not just because they need it (even though they do) but because giving money makes you feel invested and connected to the community.
Find an accountability buddy that you can connect with.
This is how Brian and I originally became close. We had been friendly and known each other for a while but it was when we set up an intentional weekly check-in that our relationship really deepened and grew. Find someone who is likeminded (maybe someone who is also isolated) and set something up. Read a book together or a book of the Bible and then check in once a week to discuss it. Send each other emails with prayers requests and new insights you’re learning. Pray for one another. You can do this via Skype or email or the phone; whatever feels comfortable and works for both of you.
Join groups on Facebook and participate in discussion.
Follow people on twitter who can provide support and encouragement.
Build time into your daily schedule to be intentional about your spirituality and to seek out ways to connect.
Even if there are no affirming churches in your area you might be able to find affirming people. Try to find someone you can trust that you can meet with regularly for discussion and prayer. Who knows, maybe a new, affirming church will be the result of your initial meetings!
Plan to go on a retreat or to a conference once a year or every other year.
This isn’t for everyone, but if you can make it work, a retreat or conference is a great way to connect with likeminded people and will allow you to build relationships that can continue even when you are back home.
Now let’s hear from you:
Are you (or have you been) isolated? What did you do to connect? What do you still struggle with? Maybe we can even set up some connections between people looking for buddies in the comments.
Photo by carf