By Dawn McFarland

Change: the act of making or becoming different.

Change happens.

It is seldom easy.

Although we, the human race, innately resist change, it is important to trust that change can be beneficial.

How does community relate to change? Empathetic and authentic community provides the framework through which we support one another during change. Change is often frightening, but – when we are supported in community, fear is easier to bear. Embrace fellowship groups are designed to cultivate and nurture authentic community both within The Salvation Army’s structure and among those we, Salvationists, encounter in our neighborhoods and workplaces. In his instruction to the community of faith in Thessalonica, Paul writes,  “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV). Although speaking to the church body in Romans 15:2, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (NIV), we can apply this principle to those outside of the church as well.

We who are the church are empowered to care for people within and without the community of faith. Knowingly or unknowingly we supply strength and hope through the very presence of Christ in our lives, an encouragement to those surrounding us.

In my late teens, while earning my EMT license, the instructor reminded us that life is a dynamic state always moving toward health or death. We are not static; we do not remain the same. Nor is our world static, change happens. Thankfully there is One constant. JB Phillips describes our Constant in this manner, “Jesus Christ is always the same, yesterday, today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Yes, change happens, it is seldom easy – and often accompanied by pain. Yet, trusting in our Constant, Jesus Christ and yielding to His strength, pain eventually subsides and healing comes. A new horizon spreads before us, our present and our future are both filled with hope and possibility. More often than not, Christ’s strengthening presence is made evident in a caring, authentic community.

I will confess that at first glance the Embrace concept seemed silly to me. “If the Church needs instruction on building authentic, empathetic community, then we are surely in grave danger,” I thought. Yet, stepping back and observing the world around me, I see within our society, my ministry setting and even, at times, my own home, there exists a sense of isolation. Our American culture fosters individualism, which, in turn, nourishes isolationism. People relocate, yet remain rooted in their previous community through Facebook, FaceTime, texting and calls. We avoid engagement with the people next-door, in the next bus seat or standing next to us in the grocery line.

Paradoxically our nearly pervasive cultural isolationism is met with a deep desire for belonging. Let us recall the opening lines of this blog:

Change happens.

It is seldom easy.

Isolation makes change harder. In fact, when we encounter change in isolation, despair can quickly take hold. So I encourage you, reader, especially those who are introverts like myself, let us collectively take a deep breath and step forward in faith. Let us be brave and welcome the strength, encouragement, and comfort that is created through belonging.  Let the words found in Hebrews 10:24-25 resound, “ And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV).

Let us be the very presence of Christ to the dying- on the inside as well as outside. Let us embrace one another in the love of Christ.

Major Dawn McFarland is the Director of Special Services for the Dallas Adult Rehabilitation Center.