Just over one year ago I moved to a suburb that is more than one hour from the city. It is an area well known as a holiday destination or weekend escape for people looking to flee the hectic pace of city life. Shop keepers recognise you and chat to you. Life goes much slower and nothing is more than five minutes drive from home. While I loved the feeling of the township from the moment I arrived, it has taken me the best part of one year to start to feel like I belong; like I can call myself a local.
What has started to make it feel like home has been finding a local doctor who I really like. I didn't need a doctor for the first nine months, but then one day when I was sick I knew that the GP who I had been loyal to for over 20 years was more than one hours drive away and that was just too far. Joining a local gym has also been important. I am greeted with a friendly 'hello' from the staff on arrival and the instructors notice when I miss a session (I am not yet sure if that is a good thing!). My step-daughters attend the local school and we often run into school friends when we are walking down the main street on a weekend. These opportunities to engage with people from my neighbourhood are some of the important aspects that connect me to the community that I live in and start to make it my community.
Jesus' second commandment to us was to "Love your neighbour as yourself." (Luke 10:27). God knows how important it is to not only connect to our neighbours (our community) but to do so meaningfully and positively; with love.
It is often easy to not think about the importance of community in our life until we are distanced from it. When people move homes or when they find themselves homeless for various reasons, it is so easy to become disconnected from the surrounding community. Did you know that more than 105,000 Australian's are homeless on any given night? For these people they are often in need of a home and also in need of a community to support them and to connect with them.
A critical part of what makes up a community is the people. As you go about your busy life do you ever consider what you can contribute to your community, not just what you can expect of it? Each year 5.2 million Australians volunteer their time to do a broad range of activities including fund raise, serve food for the needy, coach a local sporting group, or provide educational support for the local school. That is 34% of the adult population and the top reason quoted for why people volunteer was to 'Help others or the community'. (www.volunteeringaustralia.org)
Belonging to a community is so important for each of us, and there are different ways we can engage with and connect to our community. In our increasingly busy lives, the challenge remains to ensure we take the time to form those connections, because ultimately we reap what we sow.
Merewyn Foran is married and an area director of a corporate welfare services group in Melbourne.