2 very interesting conversations at a party last night with some of our neighbours. 2 couples have moved to our street from rural settings, and it highlighted some features of rural community in comparison with urban communities.
The experience of the couples seemed to be that in rural communities, your involvement in/support of the community tended to be taken for granted. It wasn't something that you opted into, it was a given in rural life. The other interesting thing was that both couples, who'd been involved in their local churches, seemed to speak of the main aspect of church life being paying the 'quota' - the money parishes have to pay to their Dioceses to fund clergy and church costs. Rural life sounded like it had been quite intense, there were always lots of jobs to do at the church, and I wondered if there was a sense of relief at being away from all that.
Conversely, in a parish of 15,000, we don't assume involvement from anyone. We assume that people will come to church because they choose to, and we know we're in a competitive market, and that the church has to appeal to people and offer something that folk are looking for. At the same time the notion of community is far more diffuse. Here on Abbey Manor there are mini-communities around the school gate, the ballet club, the pub, various groups who use the community centre, different streets, the skate park etc. It's a much looser community than a village setting, based on common use of the same facilities (school, shops, pub etc.), and living in the same area, but not really belonging to something called the community of Abbey Manor. The easiest summary is that village community is a given, whilst this urban community is a construct.
The party was an interesting illustration. We're 1 of 4 families to move into this end of our street (12 houses) in the last few months. We invited all the neighbours for drinks and nibbles - all of them replied, and most of them were able to come. We ended up giving everyone name badges so we could all work out who everyone was! The combination of recent bad weather, minimal front gardens, cars at the side of houses rather than the front etc. means that we go in and out of our houses in our cars, and haven't really had very much to do with each other.
If there is going to be a community of neighbours here, it will have to be 'constructed', and there'll need to be a tacit agreement to be part of it. All credit to Becky, my other half, for making the first move and deciding to organise the party - everyone seemed to agree it was a good idea, but it probably takes a certain amount of confidence and proactive commitment to creating community to actually get something started. Being new to a street has been a good excuse to do it, I'm not sure how you'd go about it in a more established community, where everyone has been there a while. Having done it, we do feel just a bit more at home than we did before. This is not just an address, its a place, and people help to make it a place.