Getting banned as a Jehovah’s Witness drove me to build community
Many of my friends know me as “the connector.” I love building communities, organizing entrepreneurship events and throwing a good party. I hope that by sharing my origin story of community, it will empower you to engage in your community.
What does community mean?
To me, community is a sense of belonging, that you’re part of a social ecosystem. If you’re missing, your absence is felt and people ask where you are. You make people’s lives better by being in the community and contributing to it. Community is a give-and-take ecosystem: every member contributes in their own unique way.
Why is community so important to me?
In short: because I know what it feels like to be isolated from one and I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way.
I grew up in a religious community in which its members were encouraged to only associate with other members of the church. Everyone outside of the religious community was deemed unsafe and morally tempting = bad association.
That narrows the community options down quite a bit.
Add to this, I grew up in a home environment where I was isolated from everyone and everything.
For reasons I still don’t understand, my father wouldn’t allow me to access the outside world, and barely let me access the small religious community I was part of.
Most of my childhood routine: I’d come home from school and wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house until the next day when I’d leave for school. Repeat routine.
My only respite would be the three meetings for worship that my father begrudgingly had to allow because our whole family was part of the religion.
I’ve let go of many horrible things that happened when I was a child, but the need for community was an ongoing theme.
In reality, the members of my religious community were the only ones who taught me what it meant to belong. If I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t have had access to normal social situations. They taught me what it meant to be a friend, to give, to help people who were disabled, elderly and depressed. (A common Bible verse: “to speak consolingly to the depressed souls.”)
Most of my summers off from school were spent volunteering to help these ones on a practical level (helping fix things around the house, grocery shopping, etc.), but also lots of time spent listening to them and being there for them...Once out of my childhood home, I kept close to this religious community because it was everything I knew.
At age 24, I filed for divorce, which led to my first big conflict: The religion didn’t support divorce, and I was eventually excommunicated.
They read an announcement from the platform stating, “Brittnee Bond is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness.” (I know because I was sitting in the second row of the 150 people audience when it happened.)
This cut me off from everyone.
Imagine every single person you grew up with being instructed not to speak with you. My entire family is part of this religious community (even my great-grandmother). Imagine your family members turning their backs on you and refusing to speak to you.
I was instructed by the church not to associate with people outside the religion and not speak to people inside the religion.
This left my community options at: zero.
I was told that, in order to be “reinstated” back into the community, I had to keep coming to meetings for worship regularly, not speak to anyone, study my Bible, stay morally clean, and… wait for them to decide I was worthy.
I waited for 2 years. Every time I inquired whether I could join, I was told:
- I was doing everything I was supposed.
- They wanted to wait some more time to observe me.
- There was no time frame and I should be patient.
- I should keep going to all church meetings and not talk to anyone.
- I should stop asking when I could come back into the community.
I very sharply felt the pain of what it means not to belong in a community. To have your complete community ripped away from you. To have someone else decide whether you are good enough to belong there.
It really affected me emotionally, mentally, physically. I was so stressed, I developed a virus called shingles, which causes nerve damage from the pain. I became bed-bound on morphine for weeks.
My doctor said she had only seen this type of case with someone who has cancer. She said, “You need to check your life. You need to change things now because this is affecting you physically and it’s only going to get worse unless you do something.” She said it would pop back up in different physical ways unless I changed something.
Despite this warning, I kept going. I powered through until the day I got the phone call: They said it was going to be publicly announced I was allowed back in.
All the emotions I’d put on hold to “power through” and become reinstated came flooding back.
It took me going through this journey and fighting to be back in the community for me to realize: ‘I don’t want to be part of this anymore. I don’t want to be part of a community that gets to decide, at any moment, whether I belong there or not.’
I walked away from that community.
I have a new resolve: I will spend my life creating safe spaces where people feel they belong, to feel they are good enough, to feel they are worthy of belonging, worthy of friendship, love, happiness, connection.
I now help businesses build their community and tell their story in a way that connects with people on a human level.
In our world of technology and mass accessibility, our need for connection is more evident than ever. And people are willing to invest in it. To put their money into supporting businesses and products that support local and community-driven initiatives.
On a personal level, I advocate for community building any chance I get.
I encourage everyone I meet to create safe spaces where people feel they belong. Any sort of reaching out for coffee, creating a meetup or event, is all building community.
Each one of us wants to feel connected. Each one of us wants a healthy sense of community. We can build community one person at a time.