We Joined A Community

Old St. Pat's Church - Chicago, IL

My oldest daughter started kindergarten this last week, and all of the sudden, my wife and I have become a very busy bunch of joiners.

This morning we started an interfaith Sunday School program. Except for holidays, our family maintained a pretty secular existence. For us to participate in a decidedly “not” secular undertaking is something we’ve thought about a lot since we had kids. Our orientation today went very well, but it struck me about five minutes into our meet & greet: I don’t know how to be non-secular.

In other words, here’s a community I actually want to join, but I don’t know how to fit in.

It’s actually pretty interesting to me because this is exactly what people new to any community (probably) feel, moving to a new neighborhood or signing up for a service online. Often times, you go in on your own. You don’t have a sherpa to do some of the heavy lifting and guide you in the beginning. You don’t know enough about the culture to feel comfortable “being yourself” because in this context, you don’t know how to even present yourself in the way you might want to later on.

Example: I was a little nervous on the way to the school this morning that I was too underdressed — I didn’t want to mispresent myself and our family on the first day.

Having joined community efforts in the past, there were a few things that happened today that I will incorporate into my role. One of the gentlemen in the orientation had been with the co-operatively run Sunday School for the last nine years as his kids are going through the program. He started the orientation with the concrete stuff: here’s how you get to the information resources on our website.

Then he addressed in a very concrete way how to start connecting to other families. His advice was to “get involved… when you’re comfortable.” With 160 parents participating in this co-operative program, he explained that “everyone is good at something — getting involved at something you’re good at is a great way to meet people.”

We were then walked through a “day in the life” of a parent in this school. What time we should be there to drop of the kids; where in the building do we take our kids for their class; if we’re teaching, where do we get the classroom supplies; if we’re not teaching that day, where do we gather with other parents to work on committees or take part in adult education activities; what’s the going rate for charitable giving weekly; what are the additional volunteering expectations.

These were all great questions, but the part that really blew me away and made me feel like this was a very mature and well-organized community was when my family was paired up with a mentor family. This very nice couple and their two kids were basically assigned to us to be friends 🙂   By this, I mean we talked with this family for a good hour after our orientation session ended, nom’d on some munchies provided by the Sunday School and got some of the “skinny” on how this co-op works. We exchanged phone numbers, email addresses — I felt immeasurably more comfortable about our decision to join this Sunday School program on the way home than I did on the way there.

I would generalize the preparation needed for new members of any community as the answers to the following questions:

  • Do your community members know how to use the tools?
  • What is “a day in the life” of the typical community member?
  • What’s the “going rate” for contributions to the community?
  • What are the expectations for “commitment?”
  • How will you mentor new members?

Today I learned about a few ways to make joining communities I manage more successful. I guess it pays to go to school 😉

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