Crowds and Community

My husband and I live in one of Maine’s lovely lake areas, a group of lakes and ponds known generally as the “Belgrade Lakes.” In the midst of this area is Belgrade Lakes Village, about a half hour drive northwest of Maine’s capital city, Augusta. Belgrade Lakes Village is, on most days, a sleepy sort of place. Those who ski in Maine may know the village as that little grouping of businesses they drive through on Route 27 to get from the interstate to the Sugarloaf ski area. For those who live in or vacation in the Belgrade lakes area, Belgrade Lakes Village is known for the restaurant that specializes in duck and the small general store, with its quirky sign that indicates its normal summer hours and then for the rest of year “damn few.”

On most days, there’s not a lot going on in Belgrade Lakes Village. But on Sundays in the summer, especially in the morning, the Village turns into a very busy place. It’s like everyone in the area descends upon the small village. It’s hard to find a parking spot, for cars and for boats. With every parking spot taken and all sorts of pedestrians milling around, it can be hard to drive through, since the road is not wide.

Since I usually work on Sunday mornings I don’t normally visit the Village, so I don’t witness what’s going on on the average summer Sunday morning. I hear about it, though, from a couple of friends who consistently go to the Village on summer Sunday mornings (unless it’s pouring rain) because “it’s the place to be.” There are a few Sundays in the summer when I’m off. If we are around, my husband and I sometimes boat over to the village to see what’s going on. We did so last Sunday, after I attended a worship service online.

The summer Sunday morning crowd has always struck me as a bit puzzling. Sure, there’s a farmers’ market and there are those who like to go to Day’s store to buy donuts and coffee and the Sunday New York Times. And, there are those who like to go to the bakery at the other end of the village where you can get really decadent breakfast sandwiches (something my husband likes to do— on Saturdays).

This past Sunday, as we made our way through the crowd at the farmers’ market and then through the crowd of pedestrians, on our way to Day’s to get a coffee (oh, alright, and a couple of donuts), I wondered what it was that really drew people to this usually sleepy village on a summer Sunday morning— fresh local vegetables? coffee and donuts? a place to see and to be seen?

As I sat outside Day’s, I couldn’t help but take a good look around and listen in the various conversations that floated out from the various groupings of people. Most of the conversations seemed to be happening in family groups or groups of people who knew each other in some way or another. I wondered if the magnet that pulled people to this small village was the thought of community, a place to be among others and to feel connected to other human beings. But, the “community” that exists on summer Sunday mornings in the Village isn’t much of a community. It’s clear that people mostly connect with people they already know. To the extent that people meet new people, it’s a friend or family member making introductions.

What sort of community is this? Is this the sort of community that helps people find meaning in their lives, or a sense of common purpose and vision? Is this the sort of community that feeds the soul and offers encouragement during life’s trials and tribulations? Is this the sort of community that reaches out when someone hasn’t been seen for a while? Is this the sort of community that provides lessons on how to live well in community? Is this the sort of community that offers hope for that which follows this mortal existence?

In my irregular visits to the bustling Sunday morning crowd in Belgrade Lakes Village, I get the sense that while there is a crowd and there is bustling, there is not so much in terms of community, at least not the kind of community that offers anything deep and abiding. There is simply a lot of people and there’s nothing inherently deep or abiding, or meaningful, in a crowd. It’s just an assemblage of people, many of them looking for connection. And, while they may feel connected to the familiar faces they see on a Sunday morning, it’s not anything like what I usually experience on a Sunday morning— in the summer, in the fall, in the winter and in the spring— in a church where community means something and where community is more than recognizing people, or feeling connected, but where there is something deep and abiding. And, where there is the recognition that we are far more than the small crowd that we make.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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