We felt fragmented, for good reason: we were.
My wife, Charlene, felt it more than I did. We lived in one community, and both of us worked in another. Our kids attended school in another community, and then we worshiped in another community. Charlene counted: our lives were spread throughout nine communities within west Toronto.
We found it hard to feel like we were making a difference in any one community. Our social circles didn’t overlap. It felt strange to invite someone to church, or even to a social event with believers, because our networks were too spread out.
Charlene voiced this concern, but I didn’t know what to do about it. We did the only thing could. We prayed.
The Problem with Fragmentation
We didn’t start out fragmented. When we moved into our house in West Toronto, we lived and worshiped in the community. We invested heavily in relationships in the community. It was our parish.
It didn’t last. Slowly and imperceptibly, our lives spread. Not only did we find ourselves fragmented, but we worshiped in a church in which fragmentation was the norm.
A book called The New Parish labels the problem as dislocation. It’s caused by two fragmenting forces: the myth of the individual, and living above place. When we live as autonomous beings outside of community, with the networks of our lives are disconnected, we lose something and don’t even know it. The solution, they write, is to return to relationality and place. “Follow Jesus into your neighborhood with fellow followers of Jesus,” they write. “Allow the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ to form your imagination for faithful presence.”
Zack Eswine, who’s written my favorite book on pastoral ministry, touches on the same theme:
God will give you a local place to inhabit and a thing to do there, which means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are. This means that to dwell knowledgeably and hospitably in the place God gives you is to glorify him.
To live an unfragmented life in one place is countercultural. It’s essential, though, for the kind of ministry that will make a difference in a place.
How God Answered Prayer
It wasn’t until last week that I realized how God answered prayer. Four years ago we moved into Liberty Village, a neighborhood in Toronto. We live here. We work here. We worship here. Our lives are centered in one community. The church we’re planting has a vision for neighborhood ministry.
As we walked through the community last week, Charlene reminded me of the prayer we’d prayed years ago. It’s the prayer for the problem that seemed unsolvable to me, and yet God solved it. We’re grateful. Our lives are no longer fragmented.
If you’re living a fragmented life, it may be worth praying that God would lead you to life and ministry in one place. It’s a gift worth pursuing.
If you’re living, working, and worshiping in one community, cherish and protect that privilege. We need more Christians to rediscover the power of faithful presence. May God raise up individuals and churches who recapture the power of living and loving within one community.