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Community in Unexpected & Unlikely Places.

Until four years ago, community for me had always been quite predictable. My community was the people I worshiped with at the church where I worked—until it wasn’t. For those who have stepped outside the church world, with its built-in friendships and social networks, shared meals and community projects, the idea of building such a network from scratch can feel daunting and sometimes all but impossible. Therefore, surprises of community from unexpected places are rare treasures I hold with awe. I liken it to discovering something that brings me joy when walking a well-traveled route: like new raspberry bushes seeding themselves along my favourite wooded path, or finding a sand dollar on the beach I comb regularly. I find these things because I have a desire to find them - I am looking, but they are also simply joy-filled gifts waiting to be found.

It has amazed me to find gifts of community—honest, nurturing relationships of mutual growth and care—on the ordinary, well-worn path of my life the last couple of years. One is with my daughter’s participation in Special Olympics athletics. Inclusive spaces draw you in and embrace you like a mama bear hug. Special Olympics athletes, their families and coaches are a community that heals my heart and gives me hope.

It has surprised me to discover community with people 20-30 years my senior, as they walk large swaths of my home province of Nova Scotia. These people identify as pilgrims. They walk places—usually long distances—and they have done so all over the world. I have never been on an intensive faraway pilgrimage, but the past two years I have been facilitating local pilgrimage. Local pilgrimage has all the aspects of pilgrimage to faraway places but also allows people an intimate introduction to the land they live on at the slowed-down pace of 3 kms per hour. The program attracts people who have ‘walked the world’ and are intrigued by the idea of walking the mundane, the ordinary, the route they usually whiz by in their car. When a pilgrimage is long over I crave connection with these people, but not in a coffee shop, I crave talking with them with our feet in contact with the ground as we fall into a walking rhythm together. Connecting with people as we connect physically with the land we inhabit has been a new and impacting experience that I want to continue to explore.

Last, but by far the most striking, I am surprised to find community with SSU classmates that I was introduced to, and only experienced through Zoom. To be honest, I went into my post grad degree experience at SSU with low expectations for community. I am a graduate of both the in-residence undergraduate program at SSU (2000) and the MA program (2022). Having lived in the ‘Big Yellow House’ (Park Hall) for 4 formative years, I could not imagine that a non-residence masters could also involve the life-changing relationships I experienced with the intensity of doing life together that my first degree provided. I was wrong.

It started as impromptu conversations after class to debrief and hash out all the things that were harder to communicate in the larger online setting. It morphed into intimate conversations of mutual vulnerability and support. Nurturing these classmate/alumni relationships also helped me immensely as a student. I had people to talk through essay topics with, a network for finding research resources, and we edited each other's papers. When it came time to write a thesis, those of us writing together formed a cohort who met regularly with questions and encouragement. Currently, my geographically closest Zoom-introduced classmate lives 523 kms away, but she is just there (in St Stephen, NB) to write her thesis. She actually lives 18,000 kms away, the farthest point from me on the globe. Most alumni I communicate with live 1000-4000 kms away. Despite the physical distance between us, I have discovered incredible depth of relational treasures with my SSU classmates. It is currently distant fellow alumni from my Master’s program who are the people I do life with. They are my confidants. We dream together and we mourn together. They are the people I reach out to when I am in tears and the first people I want to share my excitement with. They bear witness to my life and I to theirs. I and three alumni talk almost daily. We use a mix of Whatsapp, Marco Polo and Be Real. I meet with others monthly via Zoom for contemplation and connection. I vacationed this year with alumni in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and last summer in Vancouver, British Columbia. These are my people and I can't imagine life without them. St Stephen University’s gift for creating and building community lives on. I am curious to hear more such stories because I have a strong hunch they exist.

Where are you surprised by community?

Do you have any SSU alumni community stories to add to mine?


Shawna Lucas lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. She did a joint MA degree with courses from the Jim Forrest Institute and SSU’s Ministry Studies Program. Her MA thesis was entitled Embodied Narrative Theology: Seeking Transformation Through Shared Readings of Sacred Stories. Shawna is simultaneously everything and nothing and detests the question ‘what do you do?’ because she has no formal claims to a title. Currently, she fills her days parenting (and feeding!) four teenagers. She also manages multiple properties and with them renovation projects big and small. Shawna is fascinated by trees and rocks and regularly likes to get lost in the woods and find herself again. She usually has a current research obsession, which at the moment is geology and forest succession. She has worked the past couple years with Camino Nova Scotia, a local pilgrimage organization. Feeding, providing spiritual care and facilitating pilgrims moving across a landscape has become a new passion and feels like a culmination of many of her life-long skills and interests. 


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