A Reflection on Chickens, Christian Education, and Community

“Community then becomes the laboratory in which our hopes and dreams become real … A worldview, a mentor, a community—these are the habits of heart that grow and sustain a faithful life, that so nourish a soul that a career can become a calling that gives a coherence to the whole of life.”

—Steven Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness

I bolted upright and looked around the pitch-dark room. In the distance I heard the howl of a coyote. A phrase raced through my mind: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18, KJV). What was this about? I was dreaming but I couldn’t remember what the dream was, which is unfortunate, as I think it was a good one … something about community and Christian schools and vision—or lack thereof.

Is community necessary for the Christian school to flourish? Where does vision fit into this? I work in a Christian school that was established fifty-three years ago by people with a strong sense of community. I asked some of these founding fathers and mothers about community and what it means to them:

“Community is when we stick together and when we are always there for each other.”

“Christian community is when the Spirit is loose.”

“Community in Christian education is about sacrifice and life-style choices.”

After talking with the founders of our school community, I spoke with some alumni. A Durham Christian high school graduate commented that she found “community in friends, in the bonding activities at the school, and in chapel services where there was a commonality rooted in Christ and expressed through song.” What a beautiful picture! One former student of Knox Christian School shared her experience of community at our school: “I felt that they [teachers] cared about me in a very holistic manner, beyond just my performance in the classroom. They were really positive role models and spent so much time investing in their students.” I like that concept of investment. Community takes investment. Teaching in a Christian school is not just a job—it’s a way of life.

We have a chicken who doesn’t believe in community. She gets out of the enclosed area every day and meanders around in the garden, choosing a few delicate leaves to munch on. She hides her eggs in front of the house, rather than in the nests provided. She sometimes follows the neighbor girl to the bus stop, and if she had her way, would probably follow her to school. She sits on her secret egg stash when my husband collects the eggs, hoping desperately they won’t be found. Is this chicken missing out on community? If so, is her quality of life better or worse? Rather than being unnaturally solitary, could it simply be that this hen is a thinker and a planner? Perhaps she needs times of solitude to seek out her path. In fact, we all need times of solitude to meditate or think, and we know that Jesus often went on a rooftop or a mountain to do the same, and to commune with his Father.

Walking along the Lake Ontario beach on a cold September day, waves splashing and the wind blowing fearlessly, I contemplate the concept of community. Do we still have community in our fast-paced society, or is community now based solely on technology and Facebook? If not, do we have time for community? Doesn’t community take commitment? The communities of the seventies, of which my husband and I were a part, included communal living, granola baking parties, shared goods, and long meetings to discuss day-to-day things like when to clean up the basement. This kind of community worked for us at the time, but it was hard work! For others, this model of community didn’t work. Benefits of communal living for me were that I had three other laps to deposit my twin babies on when they needed a cuddle. But sometimes, as with both Jesus and our hen, one needs solitude in community.

Can the Christian school flourish without community? I dare to say that it cannot. In this world of brokenness and sin, of icebergs and north winds, we need to share the hope of Christ. Further, Christian schools must remain beacons of light that direct and lead the greater community. To do this, teachers must be perceptive and ready to challenge the culture around them. What a responsibility! What a lot of work! But wait: we are not alone as teachers; we are working in community—what a relief! In a community based on shared vision, we will not “perish” or run wildly or aimlessly.

Days have passed since my late-night musing on Proverbs 29 and my long walk in the cold wind blasting over Lake Ontario. I find myself sipping a cup of coffee in an obscure coffee shop located downtown, and realize that I have not totally solved my dilemma on the function of vision and its role in community. I look around the coffee shop and recognize the workers busily serving their goods. An old man, who also appears to be escaping from autumn’s blast, asks if he can borrow my newspaper when I have finished reading it. The geranium that brightens up the windowsill retains its bloom despite the changing weather. The bell rings, and lunch is ready and delivered through the little hole in the wall. I notice the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the coffee shop, and suddenly it dawns on me. This is community—people from various walks of life, connecting over coffee and baked goods. Life here is simple, but the vision is shared, and because of that, this is a good place for its patrons. This little insight on vision and community was reaffirmed when I told a friend about waking up with Proverbs 29 ringing through my head. “Oh,” he responded, “but God didn’t give just that verse; he gave the whole Bible!” What a blessing this truth is. Hurrah for community and Christian schools and dedicated teachers! Shalom!