Whenever someone asks what church is to me, I have three images:
- After service gathering times at Boise Friends Church. Church was ìokayî: I spent most of my time studying the music in the hymnal and reading the shortest books in the Bible (Jonah and Esther). But after church, I didnít have to be quiet and sit still: I could run amuck in all the classrooms and in the social hall and sanctuary and balcony (oooh, the balcony – where sound equipment was kept that was a big no-no to touch . . .but we did anyway: shhhh – donít tell). Kids were given lethal doses of sugar cookies and red Kool-Aid, and parents told them anything they wanted to hear as long as they could carry on a conversation with their friends (many a Going Out To Eat Sunday Lunch occurred from those times). All the adults took responsibility for all the kids, and all the kids acted like we were siblings. Potlucks were the best: a good Sunday had us going home two or three hours after the service concluded.
- Saturdays on the clock tower lawn at the beginning of Yearly Meeting (an annual gathering of Quakers affiliated with the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Churches): while the main focus of the week is to do business, I have always loved the bi-product of being in community. I get to see friends, whoíve become like family, whoíve journeyed with me since I was a tantrum-throwing tyke to becoming a (not quite as frequently tantrum-throwing) young adult. That first Saturday is a play day: ministries set out displays, folks wander in to register, teens whoíve been on summer mission trips reunite with friends and family. Coming from a very small family, I imagine itís what family reunions are like – running around to see everyone, chatting with everyone, catching up, getting hugs and countless greetings of ìHow ya been?!!î.
- An intergenerational small group experience that I participated in with my husband. It was one of the first things Iíve done where I felt accepted into the church as an adult. We shared our journeys – good times and bad -, worshiped, encountered God, and connected as we went about the daily walk of our lives. Instead of talking about God, we talked to God – kinda nice to be more practical than theoretical.
This week as Iíve been doing my Examen, I have another image to add to my collection: this last Christmas Day service at Newberg Friends. See, we generally have three services, but this Christmas we had one (partly because three Christmas Eve services were given the night before, and partly because it was the funky ìshould we/shouldnít we have service with Christmas falling on a Sundayî thing): and MAN – was it packed! Initially I wasnít going to go: lifeís been a tornado, and adding one more event would just send me flying to Oz with Dorothy. But my in-laws requested that we attend church on Sunday, and no matter how many hints I dropped that it wouldnít be convenient, they simply smiled and acted as though they had no idea what I was alluding to. And Iím actually glad they didnít budge.
Christmas Eve was less than extraordinary (service without nursery care for a family of an energetic, extroverted moveríníshaker toddler does not lend to a ìSilent Nightî atmosphere); but Christmas Day had beloved and sainted nursery workers, so I could actually be present during the service.
And how interesting it is to see the three services combine. Normally I sit in my balcony spot, seeing about half of the church. With all the exits and the balcony and the odd angles of the sanctuary, itís easy to not know that someone attends NFC – even if they go to your service! But this time I sat in a little different spot, as did most people. Folks couldnít stop looking around, smiling at each other and waving. Warmness and familiarity filled the air, blossoming even more as we entered into the real reason we were there – worship.
Iíve been hearing about Revolutionaries – the noticings of folks that the traditional model of church is crumbling. Many think it will reshape itself into simple or house church models. I definitely think thereís a place for that: I find that closeness, accountability, sense of being known in my small group. But if this happens and the larger gatherings fade away, part of me would grieve for the loss of these fellowship times – the coming together, not simply because weíre part of the same ìchurch clubî, but because weíve come together to praise, worship, adore, acknowledge, and encounter our Creator. Whereís the place for those types of gatherings? How can we come together as a large group, but still recognize that weíve got more work to do during the week than smiling at our neighbor? As the next generation steps up, what are these ìfamily reunionsî going to look like? How are they going to change? I do hope I donít still have to wear a name tag. . .