I love when church springs up unexpectedly and I walk away knowing I met with God and the people He loves.
Church has happened to me twice recently and I wasn’t even in a church building either time.
Last week, church happened in my family room with a group of women, a couple of bottles of wine and a modest array of appetizers and desserts. Our common denominator was that we all call the same faith community, Floris UMC, our church home. My dog, Dobby was also present and slightly annoying in his eagerness to sample each lap in search of the perfect resting place and perhaps a morsel of food. We watched a video about vulnerability and then practiced it. We talked about community, connection and comparison and how our faith reminds us that we are enough. We talked about how hard it is to admit that we aren’t always “fine,” even when we insist that we are. We discussed our gratefulness for sacred spaces like this and our desire to encourage one another to be brave. We shared our stories as we dug into each other’s lives in an attempt to know one another better. We laughed a great deal, giddy with our joy of finding sanctuary and sabbath on a weeknight in suburbia. We pledged to make times like these a priority, to pray more together and to invite others who might also be hungry for a safe place. We also planned a movie date for this week. 🙂
Yesterday, church happened again as I met with some friends around a table at the Lamb Center and talked about the book of James in the bible. This group of friends represented a variety of backgrounds and circumstances: we were black and white, men and women, believers and non-believers, homeless and housed, staff, volunteers, and guests. Although I had intended for us to finish discussing Chapter 1, we got caught up in one particular verse and camped out there for an hour. We talked about the difficulty of listening when we are angry and shared the ways some of us had made progress. We told stories on ourselves: the times we were successful in being “slow to become angry” and the instances where we fell flat on our face. We discovered that spending time with Jesus seemed to make a difference and increased the likelihood that we could be patient. We celebrated that we were getting better and admitted that we were sometimes frustrated by our lack of progress. We laughed a great deal, rejoicing in the glad cries of “me too” and “I thought I was the only one.” Although our circumstances outside of that place may have differed significantly, around that table we found love, connection, community and a safe place to ask questions. As we closed with prayer, the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable as many of us expressed our gratitude for this especially beautiful time together.
When I found myself alone after each instance, my eyes filled with tears as I thanked God for throwing a party and inviting me. My God throws the BEST parties!
Here is what feels like church to me:
- Honest, vulnerable, brave sharing of our stories with one another
- Safety to be real, safety to doubt, and safety to ask questions without fear of condemnation
- Inviting God to be present without dictating how God/ Jesus /Holy Spirit chooses to show up and make His presence known
- Hungry people get fed
- Everybody is invited
Church has happened at my house before. Church happens regularly at the Lamb Center. Sometimes church even happens in the buildings we refer to as “church.” We show up hungry for hope, for connection, for love, for safety, for acceptance, for community and we get fed. Sometimes, we show up hungry for food; breaking bread together is always a good place to start. We invite God, get real and tell our stories. We find out we aren’t alone and that God loves us sacrificially, completely and forever. We promise to take care of one another. We leave stronger, less lonely and more grateful.
I made it one page into Rachel Held Evans’ new book Searching for Sunday and found this quote from my all-time favorite pope that I immediately had to write in my journal:
I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security…More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” – Pope Francis
Sounds like my favorite kind of church!
Tell me about a time when you experienced church outside of a church building in the comments below.