Community is most real in physical proximity, in physical closeness such as in neighbourhoods. Robert Bellah, Richard Rohr and others who understand this important premise of communities write about communities that last. These communities have a transcendent sense of themselves-they are bigger and mean more than what meets the eye. For example, the people who live in Mother Theresa’s homes and work with the poor know that they are doing more and mean more than just feeding and caring for the dying. Communities that have a clear enemy-something or somebody that they are over and against-tend to last. The problem with ‘that which they are over and against’ might shift, might move. If the strongest basis for one’s community then goes away, soon to follow is the community. For example, if you and your co-workers are over and against your boss, the new government, abortion or anything else you will feel in community with others. Once gone and no longer an issue, community will diminish. Communities that last have something that they are ‘for.’ For example, teams are for winning generally but may have other pieces of their reality that they are for. A coach is suffering from cancer, a team mate is seriously injured and in the hospital. Being for helping them or just sitting in shiva together builds community. An abstraction that people gather around, a great idea as Parker Palmer calls it, can also build community. Finally, some symbolic representations of the community hold communities together. Like it or not the ‘cross’ is a powerful community builder. Just ask a Catholic person who goes to another country and walks into a building (some people call the building a church-it is just a building in which the church meets) in which a cross is visible.
So what? The best leaders are the ones who effectively and intentionally build community based on the principles of proximity, transcendence, gathering around great ideas, being over and against something, being for something and making symbols a visible part of the setting. They avoid brokering in meaningless abstractions like ‘learning communities.’ They get it!