Alex, a UCC Minister (and onetime fellow student at Andover Newton Theological School), recently gave voice in his blog to some really excellent and cogent thoughts on the nature and ramifications of seeing our congregation(s) as “family.” (That blog entry, entitled “The trouble with Being a ‘Church Family’ can be found here.)
And he is absolutely right: conceiving of our church as a family can exclude or intimidate many who are looking for (and need) acceptance and affirmation. Acceptance into membership within a family can be difficult, it usually takes a long period of courtship or else birth (into the family) to achieve it. Churches are no different, as we all know. So, if Church is a family, says Alex, then it is a very different kind of family, one that is not insular, one that is not a closed system.
Now, I do envision church as a family, but a very different sort of family. I see my congregation as being one local expression of the “Family of God” – which is a very large family, indeed! …A family consisting of all of God’s people, and even of all creatures in God’s Creation- past, present and future.
In that light, the challenge in being a member of a “Church Family” is to recognize that anyone who walks through the door already is part of our family. So, the challenge is not for the newcomer or outsider, but for us: one of how we are to affirm and embrace everyone as family from the moment we first encounter them. We certainly don’t want to overwhelm people the moment they walk through our doors, but we also don’t want to raise barriers that would frustrate them in their search for fellowship, or healing, or nourishment of their faith.
Ultimately, we are constantly always involved with one sort of family or another, usually more than one. A Church can be one of those families. As such, it is best to remember that in a healthy family, each member is celebrated and supported for who they are, not condemned for who they are not. God loves each of us without exception or limitation; and so we are called to love everyone else in turn, and without exception or limitation.
In the end, Alex and I both agree: we are all part of the same family, but it is a very different sort of family: one without boundaries or barriers to membership within it.
Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)