By Maxwell Grant
“No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends.” (John 15: 15)
At Julian Curtiss Elementary School, where my daughter Grace is in the third grade, they have “the buddy bench” at the edge of the playground.
It’s where you go if you don’t have anyone to play with at recess, if you’re not sure how to get in a game of tag, kickball or pretending to be Dora the Explorer. It’s where you go when you’re tired of being “it” and are ready for something else but don’t know how to break into a new thing.
Thanks to some ongoing reminding by their teachers, the students keep an eye on the buddy bench to see if someone is waiting for an invitation to play—and so, recess by recess, they learn to make their circles bigger, and to play games that have room for one more, and, quietly, to be the kind of community where people can ask to belong and find welcome.
It also challenges those looking for a game to play not to be so picky that they end up wasting recess just sitting on the bench. Sometimes, you need to be open to the game that finds you.
If it were up to me, I’d like to see “buddy benches” in every school lunchroom, retirement community, country club and house of worship in the land. Because the places where we interact with one another offer constant possibilities for encounter, and yet don’t necessarily play host for experiences that change us—that offer us a sense of being part of something shared over time, which is what lies at the heart of community.
We don’t typically think of community as something to be learned or taught, and tend to think of it as something that “just happens” (or doesn’t).
Yet when any house of worship tries to describe its own purpose for existing, what it talks about is how we understand ourselves as a community: a community formed by and for God. We are taught to understand ourselves as part of something over time—a time that extends well beyond our own physical life span, and includes the voices of the living and the dead, and the claims and needs of those present and before us as well as those absent and remote from us.
We need to learn ways of being together that make room for our own loneliness, our own confusion, and our own desire to break into new things. But we also need to develop the eyes to see those who await our invitation, in whatever form it may come.
In the Christian tradition, we are reminded that Jesus didn’t call us servants, but friends. And those of us seeking to be the community in his name are called to make friends of all kinds, in all places, to our great joy and his.
These days, it seems especially important for people of all faiths and perspectives to cultivate friendship with one another, and to rededicate ourselves to building a more inclusive community.
Let’s find ways to make our circles bigger, find room for one more, and quietly, become a place where people can find welcome and belonging.
The Rev. Maxwell Grant has been the senior minister at Second Congregational Church since February 2012. He is a 2006 graduate of Yale Divinity School, where he was awarded the Mersick Prize for Preaching, and he was ordained in June 2007. Max and his wife, Liz Perry, an independent school administrator, have two daughters, Grace and Emily.