Earlier this week I shared a post about the community of people who were My People when I was a teenager working as ride operator at Six Flags Magic Mountain. If you missed it, you can read that post here. During that time I learned a lot about developing community, even though it just seemed like silly amusement at the time.
New crew members were assimilated into our established group by dumping a five gallon bucket of water over their head when they were least expecting it. Similar antics occurred on one’s last day of employment. We felt it was our duty to liberate our fellow comrades from their service to Magic Mountain by dousing them with water and shaving cream on their way out.
A significant truth is found within these juvenile traditions. When we are developing and nurturing a community of bonded people, how we welcome new people in – as well as how we send them on into their next chapter – matters.
Movement of people within a group is healthy. Creating community should not be bound by trying to keep our group static. New people entering often brings a sense of refreshment to an established group. Seasoned members moving on provides an opportunity for authentic community to be replicated in other places.
However, if you want to create a community of belonging among a shifting group of people, you need to be thoughtful about establishing meaningful rituals. Consistently engaging in unifying practices that clearly mark the moment that someone enters into the fellowship of your group. As well as establishing a personalized tradition when someone leaves that affirms the specific and unique ways that their participation matters.
My community has established two important traditions to graft people into the life of our table.
Whenever someone new begins coming, they are invited into our group by signing their name on our table with a permanent pen. A visual marker that establishes them as a full-fledged, life-time member of our community.
And when people are no longer able to come to our weekly dinners because they are transitioning in to a new season of work, graduate school, marriage, etc – we send them from their final weekly meal with used silverware from our drawer, and a note saying “Because you’ll always have a place at our table.”
Be authentic, creative, and personal in creating unique rituals that unify and strengthen the bonds of your community. The arrival and departure of members are significant moments that can keep people connected to your table wherever their path leads them.