It was like trying to believe in Santa Claus. Was it really true? Would she remember? Would she really get up early on a Tuesday, walk from her cozy off-campus house all the way over to Rose Hall, in the cold, and cook breakfast — just so I could have a little extra time to sleep? I knew I had found a community in the Grinnell College Christian Fellowship (GCCF) — a community that cared about me like none I had known before — but really, nobody expects anyone else to walk half a dozen blocks in a winter sunrise just to fry up a few eggs for one stressed-out first-year. It’s not reasonable.
Nor, it turns out, are a lot of Grinnellians. Because when I crept downstairs to the little dorm kitchen, there she was with a breakfast all for me, a book for her, and a cheerful smile, all to my astonishment.
Everyone needs a community. One of GCCF’s goals is to be a caring, active community open to the whole campus (not just Christians). My first year, four GCCF guys lived in a mini-co-op (an apartment-like room in a regular dorm); they decided to use their extra space to foster community. They left their door open and invited anyone and everyone to come borrow their stuff, use their kitchen, eat their food, and socialize in their space. I was one of many who felt exceptionally welcome and at home there, and as a result, I now live there myself. My roommates and I are happily continuing the tradition of the co-op as a space where life is shared and good community happens.
A good community is dynamic. Students at Grinnell are willing to discuss their experiences and beliefs with each other and don’t duck challenging questions. The first time I went to a GCCF Bible Study, I was nervous because the study wasn’t based on a prepared lesson, but on participants’ on-the-spot questions. What if people asked difficult questions? Well, they did, and I learned that when a group of people is willing to tackle tough questions together, what results is not an ugly argument, but a healthy and thoughtful discussion. I’ve listened to people talk about everything from how Jesus might be like a ninja, to whether salvation is a single decision or a lifetime process, to how the biblical story of creation might be interpreted so as not to interfere with scientific theories — the list goes on.
GCCF in the context of Grinnell has done a lot to broaden and deepen my ideas about what community is and what it means to love people. I’ve learned that love is more than hugs and happy notes, more than anonymously shoveling parked cars out of the snow, more than cooking masses of pancakes at 3 a.m. Loving people — building a real community — is getting to know people, going beyond simply tolerating people to really appreciating them for who they are. It’s listening to their stories. It’s knowing we all make mistakes and dumb decisions, and yet we can respect others (and ourselves) regardless. It requires a little risk, a lot of trust, a real desire to learn, and a faith in something bigger than yourself, be it God, humanity, or reason.
Or Santa Claus.
Sara Woolery '11 is an English major from Malerva, Iowa.