Stories and community

Typewriter with Story buttons, vintage

We’ve recently started hosting a life group[1]– our first foray into smaller church since we arrived back in Whangarei.

I didn’t realise how much I missed this kind of fellowship and community – it’s so different to what a Sunday service (in a larger church) could ever realistically accomplish.

Our life group is reading through Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday, discussing a section of the book each week (each of the seven sections is thematically-based on a sacrament, e.g. baptism, confession, communion, and tells the stories of Rachel and others based on the relevant theme).

It is eliciting fantastic conversation so far – what we are valuing the most is hearing each other’s stories – it’s given us a much deeper understanding of each other – where we come from, why we believe what we believe, our struggles, our frustrations.

In one of the chapters we discussed on Wednesday, Rachel says (emphasis mine):

“I came to see just how much tension and misunderstanding can exist between the churched and unchurched, particularly when we are unfamiliar with one another’s stories”.

How true this is, not only between churched and unchurched, but also within the church. How often do we make silent assumptions about people without actually getting to know them, to know their stories?

That’s why I believe life groups are essential to being part of a vibrant, authentic church community. We need to have deep connections with people that go beyond just Sunday clichés. Small groups, when done well, can be places of depth, where people feel comfortable and safe enough to be authentic and vulnerable with others. Where we can encourage each other and uphold each other in prayer. Where we can live out what is exhorted in the New Testament, including Hebrews 10:24-25 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

This is what I long for in community – it’s what I think we’re starting to find in our new life group – and it’s what I didn’t realise I had been missing until we started experiencing it again.

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[1] small group, home group, cell group – call it what you will, my definition would be any group under about 15 people – in our case there are seven of us.

Sacred and holy moments

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The upcoming birth of our second child (due in less than two weeks!) and the fact that Christmas is just around the corner remind me of a chapter from Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist, where the following quote comes from:

I can assure you: there isn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.

And yet, that was the moment when I felt my carefully constructed line between the sacred and the secular shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of a life are often our most raw, our most human moments, aren’t they?

The bolded section resonates with me when I look back on my life so far. Two of the moments which, both at the time and on further reflection, have been the most sacred and holy were also my most raw…

The first moment was when I was made redundant from my job in 2010. I’d been working for the company for the first three years Kim and I had been in Dunedin and, while there had been a lull in work – not great if you’re a consultant – being called into the manager’s office and told that I was going to lose my job absolutely blindsided me. I remember feeling completely numb returning to my desk after the conversation. I nervously headed home at the end of the day and it wasn’t long before I shared with Kim what had happened, tears streaming down my face. The following day I spent at home and found myself scrubbing the kitchen floor and crying out to God – asking “why?” In this moment I felt so close to God, it was incredible.

The second moment was while Kim and I were in the midst of infertility, holding on to the hope of a child after three years of trying to conceive. In October 2012 we attended our church’s annual camp at Pounawea in the Catlins. After one of the sermons there was an opportunity for those who wanted prayer to be prayed for by others. We asked for prayer and were surrounded by a small group of familiar faces. As I tried to explain what we wanted prayer for I found myself choked up with tears, unable to get any words out. Up until that point our infertility journey had emotionally impacted Kim much more than me, but in that moment, opening up to others about our pain, I struggled for words. We were covered with prayer on that day and I recall a great sense of peace about the situation following this. One year later our wee surprise arrived – an incredible blessing after trying for so long.

In both of these moments I was faced with a loss of control and certainty about the future. I was weak, vulnerable, on my knees, crying out to God. I’ve found that these moments of inadequacy and uncertainty are such amazing opportunities for God’s grace to shine through.

In his book, Man Enough, when discussing vulnerability Nate Pyle says:

There are going to be times in our lives when we are not strong enough to change the situation. Cancer. The loss of a job because of an economic crisis. Losing a loved one in a car accident. Only when we realize how truly little control we have over the world around us will we being to accept just how weak we are. And if we can embrace our weakness in the world and stop the pretense that we are super-natural he-men impervious to the threats of a broken world, then we will begin to see the strength of Christ move in and through us.

This is so true, and is something I will continue strive towards in the future. I want to be someone who is vulnerable and aware of the inherent uncertainties of life, who is willing to share these weaknesses with family and friends, and who endeavours to create an environment where others can also be vulnerable.

This is crucial to creating a close-knit community of disciples, where we journey with each other to seek Christ through the good times and the bad, where our human-ness shows through in sacred and holy moments. One further quote from Sarah Bessey:

[God] never shied away from our most piercingly human experiences – birth, pain, death, sickness – and so, can we not find him and his redemption ways there still?

Finally, I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians recently and what Paul writes in chapter 12 speaks directly to this topic:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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