Reflections: Beloved Community – a home for outsiders?

Published 05/10/2017

The American philosopher Josiah Royce was one of the first to use the term ‘beloved community’ to describe the kind of human society that honours both individual identity and its collective context. Royce once said ‘My life means nothing, either theoretically or practically, unless I am a member of a community.’ Later, the great 20th Century religious leaders Dr Martin Luther King and Fr Henri Nouwen made the concept of ‘beloved community’ more widely known.

The UU minister Cheryl M Walker recalled her childhood brought up in the African American Nation of Islam and how it gave her a sense of the communal experience. ‘You cannot be religious all by your lonesome.’ She writes, ‘You can be spiritual but not religious. Religion is always communal, whereas being spiritual is an individual expression of faith. We create religion to find ways to express our spirituality in community.’

This sense of beloved community emboldens us to reach out to others, to embrace the ‘outsider’. As many volunteers at the homeless Shelter each winter have found, our lives can be enriched by encounters with those who are different from ourselves.

Our chosen cause for October is our own Cold Weather Shelter which costs around £100 per week to run. On 8th October, our Second Sunday Shakeup service will be in the form of a café where we can discuss the issues surrounding homelessness.

The shelter will begin again in November and run until mid-January. It’s a wonderful way to volunteer and get involved in something truly inspiring. The Shelter is supported by the charity C4WS, which is also the Mayor of Camden’s chosen charity this year. We are gearing up to a special charity concert with the theme of ‘Outsiders’ on 9th November to raise funds for C4WS and our own musical instruments. More information on p.7 and advanced booking is recommended – I do hope you can come along!

As we reflect on Royce’s view of the importance of community, in a world which is full of isolation, we are lucky to be part of a ‘beloved community’ which strives to make the world a better place. So, it’s great to know that we will be welcoming several new members into our community at our Membership Service on 15th October, a chance for existing members to make a recommitment to this beloved Chapel of ours.