Sometimes people say that a congregation is like a family. People might even refer to our “church family” from time to time. There are those who cringe at that. They think that it makes for bad boundaries or unrealistic expectations, and they have a point. But personally, I think it’s a great analogy.
There are two things about community that are always in tension with one another. We need each other, and we inevitably have conflicts with each other. One of my little sayings is, “A person alone is a person in trouble, and a person in community is a person disappointed.” As human beings, we absolutely need to be with other human beings. Studies show that even in our modern society with little chance of being attacked by wild animals or starving to death, just being isolated increases a person’s risk of mortality. But being with other people inevitably means a certain amount of frustration if not outright conflict. The only way to ensure that you will always get your way is to be alone, but being alone also ensures unhappiness.
So the choice we are left with is to learn to be together in a way that can handle the strain of imperfection and frailty, of failings and second chances, of hurt and healing. And that’s why I think the family image is a pretty good one. Especially this time of year, when being with family can bring us both deep joy and maddening aggravation; we see how true this is. Sometimes we really do need to cut ties and move on, even though it’s painful. And sometimes everything clicks, and we feel wrapped up in love and acceptance that seems like it will never end. But most of the time we’re somewhere much closer to the middle of these two extremes. These are the times when we chose to love each other even when we don’t necessarily like each other when the only thing we have in common might be that we’re in this together.
This church year we’ve already had some sizable ups and downs, from a difficult staff change to our most successful fall auction ever. We have celebrated our successes, and when things weren’t easy, we’ve shared from the heart, listened to one another, and decided to find a way forward together. And that’s exactly how it should be. We are a fellowship that is full of happiness and successes, but our occasional challenges are blessings too. Celebrating our victories and facing our challenges together is what makes individuals into a community. And a person in a good, healthy community is a person who is supported, challenged, encouraged, cared for, and loved – just like in a good family.
James Baldwin wrote, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
May we all continue to be challenged and nurtured and know that we will always belong here, in our spiritual home, with our “church family.”