This month The Church Lab welcomes aspiring pastor Erica Nelson.
We invited Erica to ponder the ways she finds community outside of the church, and what the church could learn from such groups. Welcome, Erica!
Erica Nelson is a Presbyterian candidate for ministry who graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She works at Texas Impact, an interfaith advocacy organization that helps people of faith connect their faith with public policy.
Growing up, my parents played a game called Dungeons and Dragons. This game, nicknamed D&D, is a role-playing game where the success of decisions is determined by dice rolling. You create a fantasy character alongside several other people, and you all play a storyline put together by the Game Master. Within this storyline, you will work through combat situations, puzzles, and social interactions using skills, spells, and equipment that your character possesses, which are determined by a carefully cultivated set of rules.
Watching my parents play, I was always fascinated by the storytelling, the fantasy, the ingenuity, and the fun that my parents and their friends experienced. So, when I came to Austin Seminary to pursue theological education and found out there was a student led D&D group, I was eager to join. We met for two of the three years I attended seminary and out of this group, I formed some of my best friends, friends I still have even though we have almost all graduated. I also enjoyed D&D itself so much that I went out and found other groups to join.
There is a sort of magic that comes out of the community formed between people who laugh together, solve problems together, write a story together. There is power in exploring new ideas or ways of being by embodying a character who may be completely alike or different from yourself. There is growth in the experience of team building, learning to adapt to new situations both real and imaginary, and exploring different ways of problem solving.
For me, that community was formed out of shared interests and fun. But more importantly, that community was formed in learning that we are not alone. For this reason, that community lasted because we found that those of us who came together, despite our vast differences and walks of life, had more in common than anything else.
As a member of the Christian community, I know that D&D has a lot of stigma for being ‘satanic’ or ‘blasphemous’. Some of the people I play with were surprised when I told them I was going to seminary to become a Christian minister. But I do not view this as something that is opposite of my faith. I view this as an expression of my God given gifts, a way to use the imagination, the critical thinking skills, and the curiosity that God imparted to me.
Ultimately, what I get out of this type of community that I could not get in the Church is a form of self-expression that encourages ways of being that are outside of ordinary. Many of my friends, and I myself, have used our characters as a way of exploring alternative gender expressions, sexualities, manners of speaking, behaviors or quirks that might otherwise be shunned or mocked in more conventional settings. The Church could learn to encourage this kind of exploration, this kind of self-expression. But most importantly, the Church could learn to encourage this kind of fun and storytelling.