Harmony Week – an invitation to real community
By PHIL INGLIS
I wasn’t a sporty kid. I was pretty big, and I couldn’t run very fast, so I never really tried to join sports teams or even play during the lunch break at school.
So, for me, sports classes were terrible. The worst time was when we were forced to join teams. On a number of occasions, the teacher would appoint two students as team captains. These two captains would then take turns choosing other students to join their teams until eventually all the students in the class were chosen.
I assume this was a widespread practice in Australian schools and probably around the world. I think teachers felt it was a fair way to divide all the students into two evenly matched teams. I was never the first, second or third pick for either team (or fourth, fifth or sixth for that matter) so it was quite a humiliating experience.
Just on the team
What this did, however, was force all students to be a part of a team – or at least on the surface it did. In reality, I was on the team, but I wasn’t part of the team. In many subtle and informal ways, I wasn’t allowed to participate. I was assigned to a position that never saw much action. Sometimes I was the water boy or the carrier of the half-time oranges.
When I was on the soccer field, the ball was never passed to me. When I accidentally found myself in possession of the ball, members of my own team would tackle me for it. I wore the jersey, I signed the sign-in sheet at the beginning of the game, I sang the team songs, and I put my hand in the ring at the beginning of the match, but fundamentally, I couldn’t participate.
This was quite traumatic for me, but it doesn’t end tragically. One day a clever teammate realised that I was a few inches taller than any other player we had – or faced – and that I had fast reflexes. They suggested to the teacher that I should be the goalkeeper.
Part of the team
Next game I was made the keeper, and I absolutely loved it. I was given the opportunity to participate, to contribute. My ideas were listened to, my directions to the defenders were followed, and I suddenly felt like I was a part of the team, not just on the team.
Teams are sometimes great little examples of community. I wonder if we think about the various circles, teams, groups, churches and organisations we are a part of and ask ourselves if we really include everyone. Are there people who are on our teams but not actually a part of our team?
Sports teams differ from reality in that they are small and have very limited ways in which people can participate. In most communities though, there are as many ways to participate as there are people. Are there people we are unintentionally preventing from participating? Are there people we aren’t listening to? Are there assumptions we are making about people?
Our challenge this Harmony Week is to find those people who are on our ‘teams’ and to invite them to be part of our ‘teams’.
Major Phil Inglis is the Faith Communities Development Co-ordinator (Online), based in Melbourne.