WHY COMMUNITIES NEED RITUALS

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Earlier this week I shared a post about the community of people who were My People when I was a teenager working as ride operator at Six Flags Magic Mountain.  If you missed it, you can read that post here.  During that time I learned some significant values about developing community, even though it just seemed like silly amusement at the time.  Funny how we just intuitively know some things about group development as teenagers, that are taught as reliable methods later on in life through research, textbooks, lectures.

Reading comments on that post from my Magic Mountain friends – who I’m still in contact with almost 25 years later thanks to Facebook – reminded me of our ride ops rites of passage.  How a new crew member was assimilated into our established group was important.  And our traditions usually involved dumping a five gallon bucket of water over a co-workers head when they were least expecting it.

Similar antics occurred on one’s last day of employment.  We felt it was our duty to liberate our fellow comrades from their service to Magic Mountain by dousing them with water and shaving cream on their way out.  Unfortunately my last day ended up being the unexpected last day for two of my good friends as well.  Apparently management frowns upon these traditional events taking place too close to the electrical panel of a prominent roller coaster.

A significant truth is found within these juvenile traditions.  When we are developing and nurturing a community of bonded people, how we welcome new people in – as well as how we send them out into their “what’s next” – matters.

Movement of people within a group is healthy.  And creating community should not be bound by trying to keep our group static.  New people entering often brings a sense of refreshment to an established group.  And seasoned members moving on provides an opportunity for authentic community to be replicated in other places.

However, if you want to create a community of belonging among a shifting group of people, you need to be thoughtful about establishing meaningful rituals.  Consistently engaging in unifying practices that clearly mark the moment that someone enters into the fellowship of your group.  As well as establishing a personalized tradition that affirms the specific and unique ways that a member’s participation in the group mattered when they leave.

Therefore, we have established two important traditions with the twenty-something community who meets in our home for dinner every week.

Whenever someone new begins coming, they are invited into our group by signing their name on our table with a permanent pen.  A visual marker that establishes them as a full-fledged, life-time member of our community.

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And when people are no longer able to come to our weekly dinners because they are transitioning in to a new season of work, graduate school, marriage, etc – we send them from their final weekly meal with used silverware from our drawer, and a note saying “Because you’ll always have a place at our table.”

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We also go around the table and each person speaks an affirmation or blessing over the person leaving.  Every community member states how that person contributed to our group or our lives.  And for newer people who aren’t as familiar with the member leaving, we invite them to offer a blessing instead of an affirmation.  Because it’s important that this time is sincere, not contrived.  No one needs to make something nice up if they don’t know a person.  You can read more about this tradition in this previous post.

If you are developing and nourishing a community in your home, what can you do to foster a sense of belonging for the people who are new to your established group?

And how can you intentionally send people on, knowing they are loved and that their investment in the community mattered?

Our ideas of table signing and used silverware are very significant to the characteristics and unifiers of my community.  But what resonates with Your People might be very different.  Be authentic, creative, and personal in whatever you decide to do to commemorate these significant bookend moments for your group.  But do something.

I’d love to know about the traditions you have established to welcome new people into your beloved community.  Or how to you bless people when they leave.  Please share your rites of passage with us in the comments section.

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