The Power of Community

Jun 8 / Alaine Thomson Buchanan

I recently returned from an educational trip to Greece and Italy with some university students from my place of work. Two other schools were also there with us, where I had the opportunity to teach during my adjunct years. Because of this, I already knew the other six professors and the three leaders overseeing and teaching the entire group. We were trying to figure out ways to encourage the students from our respective universities to get to know each other.

An idea came to mind when we visited Lydia’s Baptistery in Greece, where I was asked to share a devotional with the over 70 people in our group. An outdoor gathering space surrounds a tree as a central focal point, and within a few feet of that space, a river flows. Although it may be a different location, Lydia and her household were baptized near this place.

As I stood up to share, I noticed something. Every single leader and professor who was there had already created community, a safe space, for me…one for over 20 years. Others for one year, and others for some time in between. As I called out the names of each person and shared a bit about how long we have known each other and how they created a safe community for me, students tangibly saw how the relationships they make today could span decades. These other nine leaders, whom I called out by name, were similar to Lydia for me.

Here is part of her story.

According to Acts 16:14-15, Lydia was a seller of purple dye and cloth from Thyatira and who was living in Philippi. She was a God-fearer, a Gentile who followed many aspects of Judaism and adhered to some Jewish beliefs/practices about God. She met the Apostle Paul (and Silas) on his second missionary journey and is noted as the first to become a follower of Jesus and be baptized in Europe. Lydia was the head of her household and a person of financial means, rank, and social status.

Scripture tells us she showed hospitality to Paul and Silas as she insisted they stay at her home while they were in Philippi. Acts 16 continues and tells us that Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed because they cast a spirit out of a fortune-telling slave girl, which means her owners were no longer able to make money from her services. While in jail, Paul and Silas were praying and singing songs to God when an earthquake occurred, and they (and the other prisoners) experienced the power of God. They were freed from their chains, and their prison cells were opened. Because Paul, Silas, and the other prisoners did not leave, the jailer and his household chose to believe in Jesus and be baptized. The chief magistrates sent word for Paul and Silas to
be freed secretly, yet when Paul pushed back, they personally came to where Paul and Silas were and freed them.

This is where the power of community comes into play.

They went back to Lydia’s house when they were freed from prison.

Lydia created a community for them when she first met them. Then, she created a safe space 
for them to rest, recover, and heal mentally, physically, and emotionally after they had been freed from prison and until they left Philippi to go to Thessalonica.

Scripture tells us Paul and 
Silas met with the believers at her house, encouraged them, and then left for Thessalonica. Lydia was a person of status and financial means, a seller of purple and the head of her household. She was the first follower of Jesus in Europe, opened her home for the followers of Jesus to meet on a consistent basis, and created a safe space for Paul and Silas to reside while they were in Philippi.

Lydia was a master at creating community. The professors and leaders on this trip created community, a safe space, for me. I hope to do the same for other people, and I hope the students on this trip will do so, too.

Here is an exercise that might help us to consider how we can create community for other people, similar to how Lydia did:

1) Take a few deep breaths and relax as best as you can.
2) Imagine yourself in a space that brings you peace or joy. Spend a few moments in that space.
3) Invite God to join you in this space.
4) Ask God to remind you of a time when you experienced a safe community.
5) How does your body feel as you remember that space? What do you notice?
6) Ask God for ideas and insights on creating community for other people.
7) How is God inviting you to respond?
8) Thank God for the time you shared together.

Alaine Thomson Buchanan
Alaine is an ordained minister, spiritual director, an active duty Army chaplain's spouse and a mom. She holds a PhD in Second Temple Literature and History and also teaches Biblical Studies (including history, theology and world religions) at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Alaine is the Dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies and Dean of Digital Education at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. She has received certification in trauma care through the Allender Center and in Spiritual Direction through the Companioning Center. In spiritual direction, Alaine loves to walk alongside those who are journeying through liminal spaces. She specializes in discernment, integration healing, focusing, spiritual formation practices and group spiritual direction. She is a fan of tea, chocolate, and all the Seattle sports teams.
She can be found on Facebook, Instagram and LInkedin.