For the last several years, Christmas Day has followed a pattern: a mid-morning church service, a festive lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, dinner in the evening with a group of friends, a Christmas dinner focused on recipes from a particular nation or region of the world. I’ve grown to love this set of traditions, but I also love the changes that happen year to year. New faces at the Christmas morning service (twenty-two people in all yesterday, including a family visiting the church for the first time); something different for lunch each year; a whole different cuisine to explore – and prepare a dish for – in the afternoon; a slightly different subset of the group of friends as folks move, have family commitments, have Stuff come up. Different conversations, of course, and watching children grow up, and watching all of us age and deepen in our friendships.
Continuity and change – or continuity amidst the changes – or changes amidst the continuity. That’s the essence of community, I think, and our traditional Christmas gatherings are a much-needed reminder of how communities deepen, broaden, and grow over time … of how change is as important as continuity for a healthy, growing community, whether it’s a group of friends, a learning community, an institution of any kind.
Finding the balance between continuity and change, though – that’s the challenge. I started to write that “change is just as important as continuity,” but then I realized that word just implies a mathematical equivalency, a 50/50 balance. And rarely is it the case – even if you could measure change and continuity exactly – that a 50/50 split is exactly what a community needs. Sometimes you really need to focus on the continuity, on maintaining the traditions and the “always” and the “usually.” Sometimes you need to focus on the change, to open up the long-closed windows and let in some (literal or metaphorical) fresh air. Sometimes outside forces intervene – new Powers That Be with new priorities, or world events that send members of a face-to-face community in different directions. Sometimes communities of any sort have reached their full lifespan and give way to new communities, new structures for a new, vastly different age.
As the days slowly begin to lengthen, and as the new year approaches, it’s a natural time to think about continuity and change. Less than three weeks after the new calendar year arrives, a new semester at school will bring new, reshuffled classes, new members of the Latin Family, the return of some and the departure of others. It’s an exciting, but challenging time, a time when both continuity and change are important – a time when finding the balance is especially critical. With a few more days to rest and reflect, how are you managing the work of finding balance, of navigating change and continuity, of building and sustaining the joyful communities in your world?