WHAT IS COMMUNITY?
noun, often attributive com·mu·ni·ty \kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē\
: a group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood)
: a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.
: a group of nations
Source: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary
Within family, neighborhood, school, work, and organizations, we gain community. Likewise, with a divorce, relocation, or job change we suffer loss of a once familiar community. Imagine several losses at once. For many who have had to walk away from the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their losses include their family and social group, and may also include a change in occupation and adjusting to a new location as well. This is a significant loss of community.
The human heart desires community, yet it’s common for those hurt within one group to hesitate seeking another lest they get hurt again. To compound this, the Watchtower has inculcated fear into the hearts of it’s members to hinder their quest for help from counselors, clergy, ex-members, or friendly neighbors just trying to get to know them. Healing can not begin without some community.
Though I was still frightened and confused coming out of the Watchtower, I recognized the value of finding others who could understand me. I pushed past my fear and went on line to seek community among former Jehovah’s Witnesses like myself. I’ve watched over the years how the opportunities for community has grown through on line Meetups, Facebook groups, Youtube, blogtalk radio and a host of websites dedicated to offering support for those who leave “Jehovah’s organization.” And I am fortunate enough to have attended the longest running conference for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses several times to meet in person the friends I’ve made online. Such community is priceless! It’s through these venues of online groups and yearly conferences that small communities can form and multiply as people continue to keep in touch throughout the year.
For four years running now, I’ve hosted a small gathering at my home in Wisconsin which I named the Mini Midwest XJW Fest. It began in 2013 at the suggestion of a Meetup member from Indiana who has yet to attend. We laugh about what he got me into. I intended it to be a comfortable trip for those within driving distance of my home. Through the years, however, it spread to include friends from beyond the Midwest. In 2015 Martha drove from Florida to attend and in 2014 and 2016, Sharon flew in from Maryland. My husband and I have had some visit one year, two years, some three, but the only one that has attended each of the four years now is Melissa Bramer.
Some things are to be expected over the weekend: a campfire, kayak trip, and annual pie fight on the river, but with a different mix of guests each year, one never knows what to expect!
As can be imagined, we’ve gotten more familiar and comfortable around one another with each visit. Pre-party prayers, a little homemade wine, and a lot of hilarious antics help create that environment. And this year, I thank God for the right mix of personalities. Jeff and Liana brought their daughter Natania and stories from their recent European vacation. Melissa drove down with her brother Rick and my husband Ed is always happy to see the gang. Sharon brings out the comedian in me, so I’m thankful Melissa is there to babysit us! This was Sharon’s second visit and Rick’s third, yet they’d never been at this gathering the same year until this one. I noticed an immediate connection between the two and as the weekend went on, their conversations seemed to put the rest of us at ease and open up some healthy sharing of hearts. This is what community does.
On Saturday, we had planned to kayak but the weather warned us away from any outdoor activities. No problem, I just rolled out the cotton candy machine which Jeff and Liana’s 12 year old daughter delighted in almost as much as me and Sharon! Several of us also cuddled up with some snacks to watch a classic cult exit film called “The Village.” Naturally some good points of discussion followed. With a house full of friends sharing food and drink, honestly, it felt like Christmas. You know, when you sit around with the ones you love and eat all day? For those of us who missed out on the holidays as Jehovah’s Witnesses, we seemed to be making up for that without having planned it that way. Many things were shared and “what happens at Julie’s house stays at Julie’s house,” but thanks to Sharon’s love for photography, I am able to post portions of our wonderful weekend in July.
On Saturday, we ate, made cotton candy, ate, watched a movie, ate, and were interviewed by Melissa, and ate. Did I mention we ate a lot?
I invite you to join our gathering around my kitchen table by listening through this link
Melissa put together a special video message for the interview and we invite you to watch it through this link
The sun came out on Sunday allowing us to kayak and enjoy the annual pie fight after all.
This year more than others, I felt a sense that this is important. It may be small, but there were things shared that some of us wouldn’t feel comfortable or have opportunity to share in a larger and more structured setting like the Witnesses Now for Jesus conference in Pennsylvania. Some of us don’t frequent the on line groups either. So a small, casual gathering in Wisconsin became a healing place for some former Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s my hope that more XJWs will gather for such events in their own area. In fact, Melissa and I are willing to travel for more Live and In Person interviews for those interested in getting started!
The 2016 Mini Midwest XJW Fest is over, but we’re already excited to plan a camp out on the river for 2017!
But what’s in store yet for this year? If you are seeking community and it’s possible for you to travel this fall, I recommend the 38th annual Witnesses Now for Jesus conference in Pennsylvania held Oct 7-9, 2016. There’s still plenty of room for you! Maybe you can not travel, but if you have an internet connection, you can watch the conference from the comfort of your own home. Also, know that there is ALWAYS community available to you through our Meetup group and many other groups with former Jehovah’s Witnesses eager to meet you and support you!
Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie