Secular churches for continuity

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people rarely collide on a regular basis and end up separated from one another, despite wishing otherwise.

Although there is an abundance of spaces, events, and communities, they tend to lack continuity

Wow, what an opener! This feels like the sort of thing that is so obviously true when I read it but I’d never figured it out before. I’d never considered the lack of continuity to be an issue.

other than places of worship

Do you think work fulfills this for some/a lot of people?

I think this is one thing I miss about my time working at a startup. The bad part was it was all-consuming & somewhat controlling. But it was nice to have this environment where you see these people regularly, all contributing in different ways, not “cohort based”, and for me there was a culture of learning & encouraging each other to improve both on technical levels and in how best to live life (which was mostly “how to be more productive at work” which was one of the reasons I left).

I’m just torn between whether I should try to fulfill these needs from the same way I make a living.

What’s missing

I’m thinking about other places/communities where I have felt all or some of what’s in this list:

  • Creative Mornings, which I attended once a month, Friday mornings. There’d be a half hour mingling period followed by a cool 20 min talk. It was cool to go to these regularly and see some of the same people
  • I’ve felt a little bit of continuity in the computer graphics world. Despite no specific geographic center or one organizing community, as I write stuff/attend events it’s been cool to bump into the same people in different parts of the world & across the internet. But it also feels you kind of have to “earn” a place in the community (by gaining some fame, or maybe just socializing enough)

the idea that recurring meetings stagnate the dynamic

This is one thing I do struggle with. I feel very restricted by recurring things at this point in my life. But maybe this is something I need to be more open to. I’ve learned that having a recurring time to practice a thing produces better results than trying to just do it as I feel like it.

One thing I have been doing is more spontaneous hangouts. Trying to rebel against the culture of busy and be open to a friend saying “Hey want to call in a few min?” or “Can I stop by this afternoon?” and similarly reaching out when I’m thinking of someone and feel like talking to them in that moment.

our entertainment today allows us to be separate.

Such a powerful quote. I love this, and it makes sense.

It also makes me think back to when I used to make games, and I got really attached to multiplayer games for this reason of creating an experience that brings people together. I think there’s a lot of unexplored territory there.

I’m most optimistic about decentralized communities around writing

I really want to have more of this in my life! It feels a bit sporadic now for me. I have a few folks I might email if I write something, and maybe tweet it. It feels a bit too much pressure to email an individual person with a piece of my writing.

I was part of this small “writing review” group of like 5-6 people and you’d post the thing you wrote, what kind of feedback you were looking for, and you might get some thoughts, and you would try to read others’ work too. It was pretty nice but has since kind of died. I tried to start something like this on the Newgrounds forum but it did not take off: The writing review exchange thread

Thank you for reading :pray:t4:.

Work might be the most natural place as many people spend the largest chunk of their waking hours there. I was hesitant to suggest it as the ideal option because it would take deliberate effort to achieve a similar diversity of generations, cohorts, organizations, fields, experiences, etc… and this doesn’t seem to be an objective of most companies.

I was a fan for a while, used to go to events. It’s a great achievement in community-building and the ‘global footprint’ seems to be increasing constantly. Most communities have some kind of specialization or niche, and I wonder if this makes it impossible to have a sense of ‘everyone is here’.

My friends are encouraged to ‘interrupt me’ by simply calling (the ringtone is the question, and picking up or not is the answer).

Having a peer group is something I’ve been trying to work towards as well. So far I’ve only managed a series one-off conversations about wherever I’m seeking feedback. I’m wondering if it’s hard to do this in a group because it’s too one-dimensional: in the context of this article, perhaps it would be easier if people are into in this activity and also part of a larger group or community.

I love this framing so much!!

Yes, this is true. I wonder if this is necessarily something to be avoided. Your idea of a community centered around continual learning feels like the most inclusive one I can think of, but it still filters for a particular type of person (those have a growth mindset + time & interest to pursue things).

Maybe the difference is “all are welcome here” vs “everyone feels at home here”. Religious communities often welcome everyone but not everyone feels at home. The latter is probably an impossible goal.

The only example I can think of a community that achieve the “everyone feels at home” is a communal living type of thing (a place I guess that everyone can literally call home). This can have both shared interests around working on your own life & learning, but also bonding through things we all have to do to survive, cooking, cleaning, and sharing meals.

Anyway, I think my personal conclusion here is to accept slightly niche interests when making communities, because I think that makes better communities, but still try to make it accessible.

I have shared this writing alongside of Nadia Eghbal’s Friend Groups post. Not the same thing — I think your secular churches is a super-set of a “friend group”: the people in the secular church(1) can be “just” acquaintances, perhaps a source of new friends or a group that you invite friends to.

I think the ToolsForThoughtRocks members are forming an interest group that could be described as this kind of group? We’ve seen familiar faces over the past year or so.

Your definition includes weekly, any reason?

Any periodicity — daily, weekly, monthly, even yearly — probably brings with it good habit formation and other cyclical effects.

(1) note: this shorthand feels awkward — I can use it to refer to this piece of writing, but I don’t think it’s a good abstract label).

Yes, I’m trying to label something broader than people considered ‘friends’ or ‘similar to me’ or ‘sharing similar interests’ (what I would characterise ToolsForThoughtRocks) or ‘living nearby that I don’t relate to ever’. There’s an idea of it being wide-ranging in terms of age groups, life experiences, levels of education (like as diverse as a neighborhood or city) and also somehow connected to one another on a regular basis. I think it’s distinct from notions of ‘community’, although it might be one, or be composed of them.

True, but I think daily or weekly is more condusive to living in a way that isn’t fragmented: the faster the cycle, the more we’ll understand about each others day-to-day experiences. I having birds-eye view conversations or perpetual ‘catching-up’ (more common at slower cycles) adds to the feeling of fragmentation.

I agree. My choice is partly because it’s the most familiar reference and also my personal experience. But I would love a name that is its own thing. Local cadences? Learning blocks? Continuity zones? Holism centres? Places of oneness? Bring your own books?

So an SC can’t share similar interests? Or it needs to be a different type of interest(s)?

I think this needs more context otherwise the overly abstract phrase community just comes up for me.

And on cadence: so I need to be caught up with all the members? Understanding day-to-day experiences as an explicit goal?

My big question: what part of myself do you want me to bring to this SC?

It can be based around ‘interests’ I guess, but maybe ‘values’ are less likely to change over time, leading to more continuity. I think ‘interests’ might be something that self-selects for demographics or excludes people based on their circumstances, whereas whatever would bind together the secular church can include anyone—this might run counter to ideas of ‘picking a niche’ and ‘avoid pleasing everyone’.

In my experience, not everyone at church catches up with all the members—there are obviously cliques and everyone associates with who they prefer—but the cadence provides an option for that kind of closeness, which would otherwise require too much effort and planning. Sometimes the cadence makes you end up giving attention to someone you normally avoid and it turns out to be useful. Defragmentation is the goal, and I think affordances for understanding day-to-day helps.

Any part that 1) wants to commune with others, or 2) needs help or, 3) gives/shares generously, or 4) appreciates the serendipity of not exactly knowing who’s around. There’s probably more here, this is an interesting question. I’m avoiding delving into anything perceived as ‘sacred’ but I think many people have a part that wants ‘quiet space to sit and reflect’. I also remember being invited to a mosque in Indonesia and saw that some section of it functioned as a kind of community space where people were able to nap or work on the computer. What’s the difference between all this and any other community space?

Joel Spolsky goes all in on community software as a third place, circa 2003: (via cblgh)

In creating community software, we are, to some extent, trying to create a third place. And like any other architecture project, the design decisions we make are crucial. Make a bar too loud, and people won’t be able to have conversations. That makes for a very different kind of place than a coffee shop. Make a coffee shop without very many chairs, as Starbucks does, and people will carry their coffee back to their lonely rooms, instead of staying around and socializing like they do in the fantasy TV coffeehouse of “Friends,” a program we watch because an ersatz third place is less painful than none at all.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about secular meeting places. I have done a lot of thinking about Clubs, in the traditional sense. If you reflect on the purpose of a Club, for example a Tennis Club, Bridge Club, or Model Railway Club, then the point is to come together regardless of background over a shared passion or interest. (The same is true of various arts participatory groups like choirs, but we don’t call them clubs simply because they have a specific name. A Choir is a Club but a club is not a choir}.

What makes clubs special and enjoyable?
Common cause
Activity leadership for some of the time
Social mixing opportunities

Successful clubs have all of these. If you think about it, these items are all necessary for success and a long lived club. I suspect that the same would be true of either a religious or secular church. People have to have some purpose to come along. That purpose needs to be guided every so often by some members, even if that rotates. Rituals make people feel comfortable. Persistence too. The social mixing thing is actually optional, you could conceivably be a playing member of a tennis club and never have a post match drink. That would be unusual though not outlawed. The same could be true of a secular or religious church, however if there was no facilitation for social interaction it would be impossible to sustain the organisation once the founders or original set of leaders left.

I have another example, that is not a club or a church but is worth studying. I got to a pub in London to watch my team play football (Liverpool). I go there for community. We sing club songs, and everyone carries on in exactly the way you would expect football fans to behave. Sometimes it is rowdy, sometimes it is quiet. I enjoy it simplistically. I rarely talk to anyone there about anything other than football. I have no interest in doing more. We have rituals: people arrive at the same times, have the same drinks stand in the same places, year after year. There are no collective rituals but having individual rituals in the same shaped space makes for a collective ritual experience. Interestingly there are many official Liverpool supporters clubs who do similar, however this particular group is not one, it is entirely spontaneous. It has all the hallmarks of either a church or a club, yet it isn’t one.

I think people are desperate for more spaces to come together. The interintellect is one new kind of space that is aiming big and is working well, I enjoy the salons and I attend at least one a month. I am building a Club for Watch Collectors as I think we can build a sustainable business from that shared passion. I think that online communities becoming offline communities and new kinds of community emerging from digitisation trends will continue to facilitate more kinds of third place for people to hang out. My contention is that for anything to persist, they will need the things listed above in some measure. Miss out any and the chances of survival will be low. Thanks for your essay and I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Welcome @Hamishfrob :slight_smile: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your points make sense, perhaps just missing an intergenerational component where kids and the elderly can cohabit the same space and activities; great that you brought up choirs, I think music could be explored more as a participative and inclusive activity.

I remember you mentioning the watch group in a salon on communities—it’s great you’re trying stuff and putting into practice. If you share your learnings somewhere feel free to post here.

@rosano, are you familiar with the chautauqua?

@colby hmm, never heard of that; I guess it was more popular in the past? But thanks for sharing, and welcome.

I read something recently that reminded me of this. A blog post about why this person is part of the British Army in addition to his software job:

Being in the Army also grounds me in reality and in my community. The tech world can be a relatively narrow cross-section of society. When I spend time with the Army I interact with the full spectrum of my local community. My squadron has nurses, carpenters, architects, police officers, unemployed people, veterinarians, warehouse workers, tree surgeons, railway engineers, pilots, firefighters. I get to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds, a variety of economic situations, with a variety of outlooks.

It made me think about how my life could be greatly improved being part of a community like this (maybe without the guns/violence part? I don’t know)

It definitely feels like one of the closest things I can think of to a secular church.

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