Rhythm and blues

Each community has a different rhythm, created by the movements of its comings and goings, work and play, meetings and partings. The rhythm of the community itself may change over time, depending on how it discerns its own identity in the midst of a changing world. — Jan L. Richardson, Sacred Journeys: A Woman’s Book of Daily Prayer, p. 189

I belong to a community of writers that has various circles of involvement: a large group of people who just pass through, a medium-sized group of people who participate occasionally, a small pool of people who are regulars, a core group of dedicated die-hards, and two facilitators who work in tandem to see to the infrastructure of the community. Change is inherent in such a loose, broad framework, but the high degree of stability in the regular and core groups allows these fluctuations to enliven and energize the community rather than destabilize and dissipate it. Change within those circles of greatest stability, however, may seem like a different matter.

Jan Richardson writes the passage above in her discussion of a community faced with the challenge of continuing to be a community when one of its leaders has suddenly died. She further writes that members have their own individual rhythms within a community, rhythms that also change over time, depending on how they see their roles in the community. When one of the facilitators of my writers group moved out of town a few years ago, she found someone to take her place before she left. This was a major change at a level of deep stability, but members of the community adjusted their roles and adapted quite successfully. The group now faces the loss of a facilitator through an unexpected death. Although this feels far more catastrophic, functionally it isn’t all that different from the previous change in leadership.

I find great comfort in Jan Richardson’s observations about the dynamics of change within a community. The writers group to which I belong is built to incorporate and make good use of change; its flexible structure will accommodate this latest difficulty, even the accompanying pain of sudden loss. Roles will shift, and the rhythms of the community and its members will transform. In a sense, the community will be reborn. I guess that’s not such a bad outcome after all.

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