“Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Jesus of Nazareth
In recent days Patty and I have been walking on the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. The pier is a quarter of a mile long and offers Patty a safe and stable environment to walk as she builds her strength and endurance since her back surgery. We walk the pier daily, often twice a day. We both love walking on the pier.
In my strange role as a missionary/counselor I love observing group dynamics. On the pier we have discovered a model for community that I believe the Christian community can learn from. Here are some of my observations.
On the pier – it’s about the fishing! Visitors are welcome to come and observe, but the Pier community is there to fish. I personally have gone from a walker/observer (seeker) to a (novice) fisherman. I have been welcomed in! In fact I am in Tasmania as I write this and as Patty continues her daily pier walking the “regulars” have been asking where I am! It feels good to be missed and looked for.
The Pier community is wonderfully multicultural. With the common interest of fishing we find many races and ethnic groups represented. Each group seems to maintain its own diverse flavor, while at the same time there is a unity that is formed around the common love of fishing. The groups mix easily together and share ideas about bait, what fish are running and their own unique tips on how to catch the big ones. Information and resources are easily shared. The pier is high off the water and there is a danger is losing a big fish as you pull it up over railing. There are round nets on ropes that can be lowered to scoop up the big fish and bring them safely in. Not everyone has such a net. But when a “big one” has been caught someone always finds the closest net and helps the ecstatic fisherman land his catch.
The Fishing Pier community is also made up of all ages and stages. There are young folks sporting their latest tattoos as well as older folks with wrinkled brows and twinkling eyes. It is also a community of men and women, boys and girls. Like all healthy communities there are also the elders. I mentioned above how I moved from seeker to novice. I did so at the encouragement of the elders of the community. The elders have no titles and have nothing to prove. They simply love fishing and love to help others (novices and observers) also fall in love with fishing and they freely share their experience and wisdom. There is not a hint of pride involved but just a humble, wizened confidence that has grown over the years of practicing the art of fishing.
I really enjoy the fact that when anyone catches a big fish, everybody rejoices! They cheer each other on. One moment was especially heartwarming for me. An older man caught a very nice fish with the assistance of another community member he had never met. As I talked with him, congratulating him, he said with glistening eyes that he last fish he’d caught was when he was a little boy with his dad. The moment was deep and emotional. Oh how I could relate to that one.
There are legal limits on the various fish that are caught. The community does a darn good job of making sure the limits are honored and respected. When a fish is caught outside the legal limits they quickly throw it back. If the fisherman is new to fishing, the community will explain the limits and even why they are imposed. I heard of one time when one of the community members kept an illegal fish. He tried to hide it but everyone knew and there is no doubt that the collective disapproval was felt by the culprit. I have a feeling that was his last illegal fish.
The community is not perfect but it is healthy. It is diverse yet lives in unity. No one person or one group claims ownership of the pier. The elders gently help the others mature into better fisherman. People freely share information, rejoice in the good catch of another and you can hear a collective groan when the big one gets away. What make this happen so well? They all love fishing! We, the Christian community have much to learn.