Where two or three are gathered

Well friends, we’re wrapping up the semester here in Virginia, and it’s the end of my first year of graduate school. So much is happening here to keep us on our toes. We have final papers, final projects, finals in general. We’re having last gatherings, where our cohort is attempting to relish the final days we have together before we all go our separate ways for the summer. Our time together has been so rich, it’s difficult to imagine that within one week we’ll all be spread out across the country at our respective internship sites.

I will be back in the Northeast, working at Brown, but my peers will be everywhere from Texas to Washington, D.C., and back again. I reflect on my cohort so frequently because of the powerful people they have become in my life. They’ve provided me with a strong sense of community here and sometimes I forget where I am because I’m so at home with them.

This discussion on community seems so relevant now, because I’m headed off to establish myself on a new campus, with new peers, and new students to serve. How do I ensure that I bring this significant piece of my personal and professional life with me? How do I ensure that I don’t lose the community that I’ve established in Virginia when physically each member of that community is separate? This, for me, is where Christ’s example comes in. 

In Matthew 18:20, we learn that “for where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I among them.” It’s important to remember that we can embody Christ, we can embody our faith in our own selves. It is not lost when we are alone. What this passage tells me is that it is then my responsibility to remain true to that self when gathered with others, when in the presence of believers and nonbelievers. It is our responsibility to be our authentic selves. I am confident that if we do so, then when we gather together with our colleagues, with our students, with friends and family, that Christ is there among us. We’ve asked Him to come to the table and be part of our circles. 

My question still remains — how do I instill a sense of new community and maintain what I’ve already found myself a part of at JMU? As I considered this, I realized the great tool we have in technology and I did some searching, resulting in four lessons I found to ring true about this very concern. They are as follows:

Acts 4:32 says, “The community of believes was one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” How true this is of my peers. We share so much, we have become each other’s hearts and minds and we tell each other this. We think together, challenge each other, and weigh our experiences as subjective and of equal value in their own way. We are together, after all, for a common purpose: to serve the student population to our fullest extent. But humility should not be forgotten and it is this that must be remembered as we come off of the high of our bond to befriend and work with entirely different individuals with whom we have yet to establish similar relationships. 

Perhaps 1 Peter sums this up more eloquently when we read that, “Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble.” It will be bringing that attitude to our new summer experiences that will allow us to remain true to ourselves and each other. It will allow us to be our authentic selves. This summer we’ll be tasked with the following, as Romans 16:17 says, “to watch out for those who create dissension and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them.” We must be vigilant to protect ourselves, to protect our treasure — each other and our field — from those who try to belittle, negate, and undermine the value of the work we do and the passion we feel for it. In those moments where we struggle, it will be the support of our JMU community that we’ll rely on. 

Finally, we must follow the words of Hebrews 10:24-25: “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” On a very personal note, this day drawing near is our departure from one another. It is the time we will drive off to our summer campuses and be challenged to fulfill what those passages tell us. We will be challenged to maintain our relationships, maintain that community, even when two or three of us cannot be gathered. 

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier graduated from Stonehill College and is a graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program at James Madison University in Harrison, Va.

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