Though I’ve been in the Chapel Hill area for over 25 years, I only began getting involved in the community a few years ago when I attended “Leadership Chapel Hill” through the Chamber of Commerce. I thoroughly enjoyed that class, learned a ton, and met lots of wonderful people. From there I plugged into the “Chapel Hill Leads Group,” have been to some Chamber events, and attend “Friends of Downtown Chapel Hill” when I am able.
I would imagine that my experience with really getting to know Chapel Hill is shared by many others. We come for what we think will be a season (graduate school, a fellowship, an internship, a first job), but soon our time is over and many of us leave. We have little time to see the Town’s inner workings, and little opportunity to connect with people who actually live and work here. Some of us stay, but our busy jobs and families tend to keep us on the fringe. For some, the lack of connection leaves us isolated, lonely, and bitter.
Local churches provide an enormous service to the town of Chapel Hill in creating and building meaningful community. One aspect of the vision of our church (like many others in the area) is to help make the connection between the longer term Chapel Hill residents and those who are here only for a season. Each year new people come through our doors and soon find themselves getting to know older members, singles, married people and their kids. And each year dear friends walk their commencement aisles, pack up their vans and say goodbye. We have mentored young doctors, counseled young married couples, connected singles, and brought meals to beleaguered moms and dads.
But true gospel community goes deeper than just mentorship and meals. Its basis is a common relationship with a living Person—Jesus Christ. United to Christ, Christians share a most important commonality: We are brothers and sisters, bound in covenant to one another across racial, socio-economic and gender lines. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church captures this vision of Christian community in chapter 4, verses 15-16: “…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament [i.e., each person], grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
“That’s all well and good, but the baby’s crying, I don’t know anyone in my apartment complex, and I’m nursing a grudge against that jerk in my lab. My dissertation is languishing. This neighborhood is changing. I feel disconnected and forgotten.”
Christians believe that only God’s grace in Christ can provide lasting answers to these very real trials. True Christian community recognizes the difficulties but is empowered to then roll up the sleeves and go to work (Titus 2:11-12). Initiative replaces lethargy. Honest and loving speech elbows out the gossip and put-downs (Ephesians 4:29). Forgiveness is asked for and offered (Colossians 3:13). And over time a new hope is born—hope that the sin that splinters communities and wrecks relationships really does have an antidote in Christ, and that the community we now know in part, through the church, will one day be fully realized.
There is much room for growth! There are so many people who come to Chapel Hill and never get connected meaningfully to true community. It is our hope and prayer that the churches of Chapel Hill can be safe harbors of community that connect the riches of Christ to the realities of life.
Question for further reflection: How can churches help reach out to those who are only in Chapel for a season? How can we not only help them get the most out of our community, but also give back to the community?
Byron is a pastor of Christ Community Church in Chapel Hill (www.cccpca.org). Christ Community is a congregation rooted in biblical, historic Christianity and affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America. They meet each Sunday at Extraordinary Ventures on S. Elliot Road. Byron is married to Ruby Bea and they have 4 children. He enjoys rock climbing, yard work and biking.