The best quote of the morning goes to a small child in family worship today, in whose mind something had triggered a feeling of belonging. Who, amid scissors, paper and general messiness between the choir pews (no, we have no tables, chairs, separate Sunday School room, only lovely mess on the floor), announced to all and sundry, “I’m in the Christian family”.
Quite advanced for a six year old, and it summed up the heart of the gospel we’d just read, about the Canaanite woman who beseeched Jesus for the healing of her daughter, even after Jesus had suggested (tongue in cheek?) that really she, being a non-Jew, wasn’t part of the original target group for feeding off the Messiah, the Bread of Life…
But by golly she was going to feed, even if only on the crumbs that fell from his table, because what with a sick child and possibly not many natural resources at home (we can only guess) she’d come to the limits of the natural family, and she needed more. And So did her child.
I’d been thinking about belonging this weekend, after tucking into a tea-time feast in a tiny church in Sussex, the Christian family where my father-in-law belongs and who have become particularly important to him now that he sadly lives alone. He was celebrating his 90th and who best to go into scone-action than the small army of ladies that make teas for the Church, as I imagine happens, up and down the length of the land?
I remember teas from the church of my Christening. I remember family weddings (of aunts) and 70th birthdays there; also 80th birthdays, 90th birthdays, and all manner of life events in the same room with the same echoey wooden floors and tables groaning with food, and balloons and everywhere, family.
Some were related by blood but many more were fellow journeyers that also held that particular church family dear. When we celebrated a family event, they celebrated with us, in that same church hall, year in, year out. Ministers came and went, elderly relatives died and babies were born. The family continued.
All manner of life was taking place in that church hall, which was right next door to the actual sanctuary of the church, where we also, as natural and as Christian family, over decades now nearing nearly a century, marked births, weddings and deaths.
Because when the family needs a wider family, that’s where the church comes in.
Someone has said ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and I believe that. But the genius of the Christian family is you can’t (in theory) fall through the net, because the net is woven through by something/someone eternal.
A child’s sense of security is, of course, primarily in mum and/or dad, and in the wider safety net (uncles, aunts, siblings) but it’s surprising how often you meet people who have, through no fault of their own, quite precarious safety nets.
There’s something especially powerful about the Christian family that not only stretches throughout history, but throughout the globe and has some sort of local expression in every city, town and village in England.
So there we were in Sussex, in the church room (smaller than the rangy 1960s one from my childhood, and this one had carpet) with the table laid for a 90th birthday tea, and my father-in-law, who hasn’t been much in the mood for celebrations since he lost his beloved wife, proudly setting his wedding photo on the table, a photo taken in, of course, a church hall, and thanking his Christian family for all their care.
And it might have been because I spend a fair bit of time with the scone-makers of the Church (ladies who believe that if you’re going to have a tea, you’d better have an enormous one, one where there’s also prosecco and balloons, and carefully chosen birthday gifts, and of course church tea cups and saucers, and a small army to refill your cup when you run dry) but I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world, being a minister, making my life amongst people like this. Their own minister couldn’t be with us but she should be proud of that lovely family.
At that party I felt I was being held by something alive, much bigger than me, something/someone where everyone belonged, regardless of separations of time and location.
And I couldn’t even tell whether this feeling of being held was due to my belonging to my natural family (well represented there) or to the Christian family, or a powerful combination of the two, but it felt very good, very right, very solid.
Much more than crumbs: a veritable feast.