While I was living away, the thing I looked forward to most about coming home – after Cadbury’s chocolate and mum’s shepherd pie and cuddles with my dog, of course 😉 – was going back to my home church. I’ve been to other churches, found friends and spiritual growth in those places, but there’s just something about the church you call home that makes it special. Sometimes, your home church is the one you grew up in, sometimes you find it later on in life and wondered how you survived so long without it. But whenever you find it, the church that becomes your home is something wonderful. And one of the reasons it’s so wonderful is because of the people in it: your family.
We should probably distinguish between the church and the church, here. There’s the big CHURCH, the body of Christ, the church around the world. And then there’s the other church, your church, my church, Sunday morning tea and coffee, the Bible study laughter memories, the red-cushioned pews and Hawaiian themed social nights. Yes, they’re the same in some ways, but they are also different.
Let’s take a moment to be honest. The church – the big church, that is – is not perfect. In fact, at times through history it has been very far from perfect. It has hurt and halted and hindered. It still gets things wrong. It tries, and sometimes it doesn’t quite succeed. Some people might expect it to be perfect, but let’s put that into perspective. The only perfection is in the God the church serves.
Our church – the Sunday morning, red-cushioned pews church – isn’t perfect either. Sometimes the tea is weak and there’s no chocolate digestives left. Sometimes it’s so cold that you have to sit in your big winter coat even though you put on your nice dress specially for the service. Sometimes, people forget to show up to the special event everyone had such high hopes for. Sometimes, you get more frustrated because other people aren’t frustrated enough. But let’s put that into perspective too. The only perfection is in the God this church serves.
I love my church. Yes, I sometimes wish little things were different, or that there was a coffee machine or a musician playing the banjo in worship time. But I wouldn’t change it and I always come back to it.
Because it’s home. And it’s home because it’s where my family is.
Today was my second weekend at church since arriving back in the UK. And it was great. I got to see family I haven’t seen in too long, got to share hugs I have waited a year for, got to talk and laugh and pray and love together. One of our readings was from Acts, the verses that paint the most beautiful picture of what church really is:
They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
Church, if we do it right, is beautiful. It is joyful and marvelous and full of love and joy and power. Church, if we do it right, isn’t just a Sunday thing or a building-with-a-spire thing. Church, if we do it right, is about relationships, about sharing, about standing out from the crowd and being a shining example of God’s love and unity. Church, if we do it right, brings glory to God and hope to the world. Church, if we do it right, grows and grows and grows and still knows every member of the family by name and favourite chocolate biscuit.
My church is still not perfect. But it is perfect for me. Because even when the tea is weak or the biscuit tin is full of crumbs, what never runs out is the love of my family there. Whether it’s been a week, or a month, or a year, you are welcomed home with the open arms of family that mirror the open arms of a loving Father welcoming home His beloved child. That’s what church looks like, when we do it right.
With a family like that, you can forgive a few broken biscuits, right… 😉