All kinds of groups can be “church” in the sense of being that place where we feel the people around us embrace us and accept us, and where we can count on people to care about us and support us.
Most recently, last night at rehearsal one of the chorus members announced that she may need help from time to time because she’s gotten a new cancer diagnosis and is going for radiation and chemo … our director said, “reach out, we will be there, we will do what we can” … there was a little clutch of survivor conversation after that during the break, because sometimes, people who have been through what you are going through themselves just listen differently … that is one of the things we mean by “church.”
And church itself can be nothing at all like “church” in that sense, sometimes. I would like to think that not everyone has had one of the experiences that really bring that home to people, but I’d probably be wrong, and when our pastor said yesterday in the sermon “Conflicts? In the church? That would never happen …” everyone laughed.
Conflicts, and annoyances, and hurt feelings, and flat out unkindness. Even – as we would like only to know from the newspapers, but unfortunately might know from direct personal experience – harm. All the kinds.
Because everything that is in the world is in the church.
Why deny it? Lies are poison, and denial is one kind of lie.
Nevertheless, when church does step up and is “church” in that sense of solid and supportive community, it feels like the best kind of that embrace, acceptance, care, and support; it feels grounded, like it emerges from somewhere deep and solid; it feels organic, like it’s a natural outgrowth of an inner nature; it feels like people are this way on purpose spontaneously – not a contradiction in terms at all, but on purpose because of everything we have learned and practiced and spontaneously because after all that practice people have become this way through and through; it feels like an echo of what we read and hear and sing and preach and believe and think; it feels “meant” in every way we mean the idea of “meant.”
It feels like a way of life. A really satisfying one.
Like this Sunday. When various vital people individually said “yes” so that we realized we could and would all together say “Yes, we will have that Cajun Dinner again this year,” the fundraising event for the local community assistance agency that runs the food pantry and other assistance programs. So then 6 or 8 people, a lot for our small congregation, showed up to the organizing meeting. Others said “I’ll help.” Others said “we’ll be gone that weekend but …” would help out in some other way. Even though we are smaller and older and tired-er and have gotten a later start than usual we can see the thing taking shape. Because people’s hearts are in it, because it is a part of our mission, because it helps people, because that matters, because that is supposed to be who we are, and because, as it turns out, that is who we are, at least sometimes.
[On the Third Sunday after Epiphany.]