Families are a funny thing. We are born into them, and have no choice about their makeup. Some of us are blessed with large or small families that nurture and care for us. Some us are born into hurtful, abusive families. And some of us navigate our way as we age, realizing who in our immediate and extended family build us up, and who we can minimize time with or avoid altogether because they do not know how to love us. As we age, we redefine family – perhaps with friends and lovers who love us better than the family members we were born into, or perhaps with groups of people who understand us and create a sense of “home.”
For some of us, that group is Church. Now I know churches have been some of the worst offenders – places of pain, abuse, or just meanness. But Church can also be the family you choose – the place where you are loved unconditionally, feel a sense of belonging, and discover a sense of purpose and meaning. Church is the place where an unrelated elder can offer care and wisdom you have longed for, where a child teaches you what joy, laughter, and love feel like, and where a once (and maybe still) stranger can pray for you in ways that reaches your soul like never before. The people of Church can be the vehicle through which we experience the unconditional love of Christ.
What has struck me about this time of separation is how much the separation has made it easier for us to invite people into that family of Church. Whether a neighbor sharing about their seriously ill parent leads us to invite them to join us for online prayers; whether a friend is struggling with their children and finds our invitation to enjoy online Godly Play or accessible teaching materials; or whether someone who has not been able to step foot on a church property feels less threatened by a Sunday online worship service – we are finding invitation to be a much more organic, genuine experience – because we need that sense of family, we need that love of Christ.
But what has struck me even more deeply has been the shifting dynamic within our Church “family.” Instead of inviting people “in” to the church, this has been a beautiful time of us being invited “out” – finding how much malleability our family has. Invitation during this time has not simply been about inviting people into “the family” so that they can experience the blessings we have, but has also been about inviting people into the family because our family is not complete – there are people we did not even know could make us feel whole who we are meeting because Church looks so different right now. That kind of role reversal can create a sense of imbalance and vulnerability – but it can also create a richer sense of family and loving community. In our separation from the body of Christ, we are learning just how vast the body of Christ really is. We may not have been looking for it, or even realized we needed it, but I am grateful for the ways this crisis is growing our family, and expanding the ways we can experience Christ’s love.