Welcome to Conrad Grebel, a Mennonite college on the University of Waterloo campus! Grebel is home to nearly two hundred students who live in residence as well as the apartment building and is also home to both the Music and Peace and Conflict studies programs. Grebel is known across campus for its fabulous food! After all, it is the only place on campus that actually peels their potatoes (I was told this on my first tour before deciding to come. I do enjoy my potatoes peeled, so this was a selling feature).
As I settled into this new place that quickly became my home, there was a word that seemed to appear in every announcement, every conversation... the "c" word: Community. Sure, I knew the word before. But, throughout my time at Grebel, I really came to know this word; to grapple with this concept. What makes community? How do we form community? What is my role in community?
So much of my deep learning came through the eating, preparing, purchasing and dumpster-diving of food. It was during these times that relationships were fostered and deepened and I began to gain insight on how communities can be formed and flourish. Since food was so instrumental developing my concept of community, I will use it as a tool to share this learning. So, put on your apron. Wash your hands (until you've sung "happy birthday" in your head all the way through). Let's begin the recipe for one of my favourite treats: Community.
2 cups Enthusiasm
If there is anything Grebel is not lacking, it would have to be enthusiasm. Let my first encounter serve as an illustration: on my first day of Frosh week before I knew anyone else's name, orientation leaders were chanting my name as I entered the building. I was slightly terrified, but mostly excited at what was to come. As the weeks went on and student government began to form, student events began taking place, and friendships began to form, enthusiasm was maintained. There was an energetic pulse that ran throughout the building. People really delighted in one another. Announcements for events were always filled with laughter. Students wanted to be involved because it was such an honour and joy to give back to such a vibrant community.
Communities need people who are filled with passion. They encourage those who are tired and weary. Enthusiasm provides momentum to push ideas forward, to allow the "rubber to meet the road." Enthusiasm can soften barriers between people, allowing relationships to form.
1 3/4 cups Diversity
As my time at Grebel progressed, though the enthusiasm was still present, I became aware of some difficulties of maintaining a healthy community. As our relationships with one another began to deepen, it became clear that we did not all believe the same things, as we thought we did. Some of us came from different faith backgrounds, understandings of politics or values surrounding humanitarian aid. Two people could call themselves a Christian, for instance, but it would look like completely different things for each of them. These things both fascinated and terrified me. We are often afraid of what we do not know or understand. So, I began to engage in challenging conversations, holding my values to my heart, yet leaving room for my ideas to be changed. You know what happened? I started to see that our diverse ideas, passions, frustrations, tastes, beliefs, desires... made our community so beautiful.
Communities thrive not by having many of the same type of person. If a body consisted of only ears it would miss out on the smell of fresh rain, the sight of the sun setting, the taste of a homemade chocolate chip cookie. As the body achieves success through the diversity of its parts, so to communities thrive through celebrating their differences.These differences allow for deeper insights, greater passion and an overall sense of balance.
3 cups Compassion mixed with 1 1/2 cups Action
Before coming to Grebel I had already traveled to Mexico City and Argentina on service trips. I had a heart to go overseas to serve and learn. My first lunch at Grebel, I sat with an upper year student who told me of his plans to go to New Orleans to do relief work with Mennonite Disaster Service to help victims of Hurricane Katrina who still lived in trailer parks. He jokingly asked me if I wanted to help- I said I would. Less than six months later, we were on our way to the Lousianna Bayou. When it came to social justice, Grebelites were passionate. Over my time there I saw numerous service trips, students write a play about the way the Canadian system is failing refugees, my peers take time from school to serve abroad, and students going to protests and marches advocating the rights of marginalized persons. Compassion was abundant. It was more often than not met with action.
As communities form through their enthusiasm to be together and are deepened by recognizing their diversity, enacting compassion can be deeply impactful. When communities are healthy and balanced, they have energy and love to share. This can become an effective way to further community.
You're going to want to put all of these ingredients into the slow cooker and allow it to simmer for a long time. These ingredients cannot be mastered quickly. They take time to evolve to produce the most flavour possible.
There you have it, a recipe for community. Grebel revealed to me the role enthusiasm, diversity, compassion and action play in establishing a healthy community. Although I'm sure that as I move onto a new stage of life, my recipe for community will be altered, one thing is certain: Grebel brought to life what I thought to be merely a word... community became a living, breathing concept for me during this most recent chapter of life.