We held our first ‘family church’ of the summer holiday on Thursday evening. The children arrived from their various activities around the house…one with a notebook, one with a prayer card she’d found, two with a giant Lego duplo church they’d created together (together?!!!)…two of the others looked mildly spaced wondering what on earth was going on (but they often live like that!) and the other was stark naked running round the house like a loon trying hard to demolish the duplo church and doing a fairly good job of ‘demolishing’ the church we were trying to establish in that moment but hey…that’s family life right there!
It seems it’s quite an authentic beginning to church too! We all bring ourselves, just as we are, carrying the thoughts, feelings and activities of our day fresh in our minds and together we gather…and that’s the theme that rang out through all of the thoughts, comments and conversations I’ve had about church this last week; that church is community; that it’s about being together; that church “feels like family”.
Two thoughts grabbed me from these comments: firstly the idea of family…it made me smile because well, what does family feel like? I guess everyone’s experience of family is different and while we might have an idea of what family is “supposed” to feel like, experience doesn’t always match that ideal!
Family can be dysfunctional, controlling, inhibiting, maybe stifling. A place full of ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ where we feel duty bound to belong. A place where we don’t always feel like we’re good enough, where we feel judged and where we feel others disprove of the choices we make. Family can be painful.
Sound anything like church?!
However…family can also be the place where you find you’re truly known, accepted for who you are and loved unconditionally. A place of laughter and song and forgiveness, a place where you’re held; where you find you’re alike and yet unique and a place where you celebrate those truths along with the joy of simply being alive. Family can also be a place where you find your heritage, come to terms with your past, discover your true identity while, at the same time be encouraged to journey on and grow more confidently into all you’re capable of being.
Now if that was a description of church then that’s the kind of church I’d like to belong to…if that kind of community was on offer I’d be there!
Which leads to the second thought from the feedback this week. I love the idea of church being community, but what makes church different to other communities? What about the friends who meet weekly at the pub…the crowds who gather religiously to watch football or rugby…or the people who go weekly to play bingo! What about the running club or the ladies that meet at the library for the ‘knit and natter’ group? That’s community, a gathering, those people can ‘feel like family’? What is it that makes church different, that makes church, well, church?
The children reckon it has something to do with God! They think that everyone, or at least the majority of people, gather because they want to in some way connect with God as well as with others!
What if church is about an encounter with someone or something outside of ourselves; or an experience of something divine or holy; or a connection to a spiritual force; or about a space where we finding meaning for the source of our being or a space where we explore the concept of the ground of all being, or simply a space where we re-connect with the soul? It’s as if playing with the limited or maybe ‘limiting’ language we have actually helps to give more meaning to the concept of church and God. Then as we think more deeply about connecting or encountering or exploring or sharing and what or who we do that with, the actual ‘how’ and ‘where’ and ‘when’ really become quite interesting!