Community and Growth, by Jean Vanier

Genuine community is a rebellion against the isolation of today’s culture.

Loneliness has skyrocketed over the past 50 years. It’s an epidemic and a deep wound. 47% of Americans often feel lonely. A 2010 study at Brigham Young University reported that loneliness shortens a person’s life by 15 years.

Originally translated into English in 1979, Community and Growth proposes a timeless solution.

The author, Jean Vanier, was a French Catholic theologian who devoted his life to those with disabilities. In 1964 he founded L’Arche, a community where those with disabilities and those who assist them live together and learn from each other.

L’Arche shapes his understanding of community. When Vanier speaks of ‘community’ he’s talking about “groupings of people who have left their own milieu to live with others under the same roof, and work from a new vision of human beings and their relationships with each other and with God.”

While most of us don’t live in that kind of community, Vanier’s voice is wise and insightful. The essence of community, he argues, is a sense of belonging. It’s a safe place in a broken world.

True Christian communities are united by a common purpose, are responsible to and for each other, and are driven by love. Rooted in the confidence of belonging, they exude openness, vulnerability, and humility. This deep bond leads to life, because living things always reproduce.

Community shapes us. It’s a place of healing and growth and forgiveness. We are no longer hiding, but known. As we share ourselves—and are loved as we are—we experience the Gospel. “We are broken; but we are loved.” And Gospel love is transformative. It accepts us as we are, but calls us to become more.

In authentic Christian community, we grow in love for God and for others. It’s a place of celebration and friendship that flourishes through trials and difficulties. Community always welcomes. Deep friendship and fidelity form. It endures over time. It listens. It wields authority with patience and tenderness. It values and benefits from all of its parts.

It is a place of life.

Community isn’t built in a day, and it will never be completely finished this side of glory. It’s going to be a journey.

Stop chasing that perfect community, Vanier encourages. It doesn’t exist. “Live your life fully in your community today.”

From his original community, over 150 similar L’Arche communities have been planted in 38 countries. Jean Vanier continued to live in that original L’Arche community in France until his death on May 7, 2019.