Over the last couple of days I have been profoundly challenged as I have reflected and thought about the call to be a 24-7 Church, following my initial discussion with my friend Alan Jenner.
2 years ago I went to visit some projects in London with my friend Chris Harwood, we visited the “House of Divine Compassion” and the Catholic Workers’ House of hospitality. In the midst of a mad and lonely city here were two little hubs where people could drop in and get help.
One of the Franciscan Brothers said ‘everyone needs a friend sometimes, and a family to drop in on when it all goes wrong!’ –I loved that idea that they were a family and a community that people could ‘just join with for as long or as short time as people needed them.
Having been to many Christian groups, that feel like an institution rather than a family. Even our use of language referring to people as ‘clients’ rather than guests, friends or brother/sister.
Indeed, often these places feel scruffy and unloved, smelling of disinfectant, full of laminated signs everywhere tell you what you can and can’t do –a reminder that you are in someone else’s space and they don’t want you to forget it!
Yet, both these places felt very different, they felt like they were homes, that real people lived there, the furniture was nice, there was art on the walls and books on the shelves, it said you were welcome, indeed you were wanted.
I loved the idea of Church being ‘a family you can come and hang out with’, more than that ‘a family that welcomes you and wants to hang out with you’.
The house of hospitality was much the same a welcome for all, indeed it was a welcome that was free because they had chosen not to take money from the government, realizing that ‘finance limits our ability to love’ and they don’t want government strings being attached to our mission and ministry.
I thought about child benefit, it is a small contribution to help with the child’s up bringing, and we don’t stop caring for our kids when they cease to become eligible for benefits. We as Christians shouldn’t sop caring just because the Governments assistance stops.
Instead, we need to send the message loud and clear that you are loved because you are valuable, not because we have managed to secure a short term funding stream to help you.
Indeed whilst we were staying at the Catholic Worker Movement someone came and was given a bed for the night in the early hours of the morning.
The next day we laughed with the staff as someone mentioned a truth about Christian Ministry, the truth is that real life doesn’t keep the 9-5 rules, real life works weekends and bank holidays.
Family is needed all the time, and at odd times especially.
Indeed as I write this, my brother in law is going to pick up my sister-in-law and her husband and daughter from the airport at 1:00am. Family goes the extra-mile out of love, and it is reciprocated too.
Indeed the Catholic worker place said “come and make yourself at home” so much so that we ended up helping with the washing up!
The more I thought about Church as family, the more I realized that Church has to be 24-7, because families are 24-7, life is 24-7, and crisis and trouble doesn’t consult their watch or their dairy but can rear its head at any time.
Yet family is a collective, it is not just one person doing all the work, a family where the mum does everything is not a healthy family, nor is a Church family healthy when the Vicar does it all. Instead a healthy family pulls together ‘bears one another’s burdens’, ‘spurs one another on towards love a good deeds’ and ‘when one part hurts we all hurt and when one part rejecioces we all rejoice’.
As we talked to the guys at the Catholic Worker Movement and the Francian Brothers we were reminded afresh of the need for rhythms and team, the brothers serve in a pretty full-on way, but then they go off on a retreat, with space and solitude, whilst another Brother stands in for them, and so as they serve, they also develop a rhythm, of giving out and receiving back from God, this type of life is full on, it is tough and costly, and can only be maintained by looking after one’s self, scheduling in times of intentional recovery, time to be.
The picture that came to my mind with this was sport, when one person tires another comes on and takes their place, yet the game continues uninterrupted.
A 24-7 Community may require times of complete engagement and total immersion, but God is a 24-7 God and know we need to receive from him in order to give out afresh, to re-fill, refuel and re-vitalize.
The power of retreat is to enable us to advance, the power of team to allow rest and recovery whilst someone else serves and vice versa.
Something we don’t fully understand as Church in the UK, sometimes I feel we engage in a poor way for fear of sustainability but even this is not sustainable over the long haul.
Yet, what if we engaged well, fully and properly, knowing that our life had rhythm and that a tranquil season was around the corner, someone else would engage and allow you to take a step back, and then later you can return.
So, as we engage and be the family that Christ intended us to be, we also realize our need of rhythms.
As a parent, often when our little girl was younger, I would come home and see a frazzled looking wife and say “do you want me to take her for a while”, and she would do the same for me. On one occasion when she was very little, my wife’s mum looked after my little girl for a little bit so my wife and I could get some sleep! Other times I have seen siblings rally around to ‘do shifts’ to care for a sick parent.
In families we need one another to support one another so we can care for one another in the best way possible.
The family is at its best a reciprocal unit of love and support for one another, in a world where families are often fractured and dysfunctional the call and the challenge for the Church to be a family, that looks and feels like the family of a loving God has never been more urgent or more needed.