Every so often, someone makes a comment that you just can't shake from your head. Often times a comment will stick because it was directed directly at you or speaks to a particular emotion that you are working through, but sometimes it just sticks because it feels right. Yesterday, at a conversation around the table at a funeral reception, one of my friends shared this comment; "When I think of church, I think of names."
I began my relationship with my church family in the fall of 1995. I was invited to a bible study by Harvey. His young adults leader Henry then invited me to church. Helmut welcomed me into the foyer with a warm handshake on my very first visit, and Pastor Johannes even remembered my name, my last name, on my second. Henry and Fred taught me Sunday School. Fred's daughter Megan would come join him at the end of every class. Harvey introduced me to Mark and Kevin who quickly welcomed me into their friendship circle. Debbie soon invited me to join her in leading worship on bible study nights, and a year later Pastor Derek gave me the opportunity to serve in the Sunday morning worship ministry. I attended membership classes with Eldon, Frank, and Wanda (and some others I think) and was baptized by Pastor Johannes.
Of course I could go on and on, but this is why this comment resonated with me. Christ's church is made up of people, ordinary people. I still even remember (and I have it somewhere) a card that was given to me upon my baptism from my Youth Pastor Bob and his wife Hilde.
"Welcome to our family."
"Church" was added to the statement as an afterthought, probably with the wise knowledge that having not grown up in the church, I wouldn't quite get the reference of church as being a family unit. It honestly didn't take me long however to learn that this was true. My church quickly became home, and these people, family.
For my whole life up until that point, when I would hear the word "church" there were many visions that would come to mind, but they usually didn't involve people. There was of course the image of the standard church cathedral, or kneeling at an alter as I was taught to do in my short time attending a catholic church as a child. There were images of crosses, or tv evangelists (yes, people, but developed into more of a generalization in my mind), or even just the priestly robe or a reverend's white collar. Even in my first few years at my own church, I would often revert to seeing the building as the church. It was after all the classic old style church building- brick exterior, simple coloured stained glass windows, worn red carpet in the sanctuary, a scary library in the basement, and even a dusty attic to explore. However, my image of church changed for good in the spring of 1998 when an arsonist set fire to our building.
I was at the cottage. Normally I would have been at the church building the night before doing a worship practice, but we had taken the night off and I decided to get away. As I watched the morning news on my grandmothers old tv in the corner of the living room, I was jolted by the recognition of the address given as the images of my church building burning came on to the screen. I almost immediately jumped in the car and drove home, arriving at the church parking lot to see Paul, and Mark, and others I knew standing outside the burned out shell of the back part of the building. That Sunday when we gathered together in theatre of a local Christian school it became evident that our church wasn't any of the generalizations that I had grown up with. The next three years without a permanent home of our own only served to solidify the knowledge (to me and I believe many others as well) that our church was a family, a family of people united in Christ.
When I think of church, I do think of names. I think of the grandmother who shakes my hand with authority every Sunday, and would easily rip my arm off if I tried to get away too soon. I think of the boys and girls who know that there is a chocolate bowl in my office that apparently never empties and how they always want to partake. I think of the amazing tech people and musicians I am privileged to serve with. I think of those who have become close friends over the years. I think of the old man who always has a cutting remark to make, and yet always assures me with a laugh that we'll always be friends. I think of the men and women I serve with on our wonderful staff team. The list goes on... and it is a very long list.
We read of the early church in the book of Acts, how they "met in homes for the Lord's supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity." (Acts 2:46 NLT). We see time and time again in scripture that we are not meant to walk our journey with God on our own, but are meant to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in the faith. This is how it should be - Christ's church is the body of believers.
When I think of church, I think of names, and they are names that I honestly can't imagine not being a part of my life.Thank You God for the gift you have given me through them. I am blessed.