As most of you know my husband is a minister of a church, so that makes me the minister's wife. Of course that means we basically have to go to church every week, but even when we weren't getting paid to go church was an important part of my life. Today I wanted to share with those of you who may not go to church (and those that do) the many great things I experience by being part of a church community. There are many misconceptions about what goes on at a church so I wanted to share a little of what I have experienced since becoming a Christian (when I was 18 ..you can read my story on the Life on a Hill blog) and joining a church.
Having moved four times in the last 12 years, I have experienced what it is like to have to build a new network of friends in a new area. It can be quite difficult establishing a social network of people who you can turn to if you ever need help. In our Australian culture it takes time to build relationships with people, and even longer until we have a relationship where we can rely on each other for help in times of need. Thankfully I have been able to find an "Instant Family" each time I have moved. It isn't because I am such an amazing person that people cannot help but be drawn to me. No, it is the friends and family I find whenever I join a new church.
Of course friendships don't form instantly, they still take time but in my experience joining a church allows you to meet with a wide range of people who you can begin to form relationships with. Whenever we have started at a new church, people we have never met before have taken the time to get to know us, often by inviting us around to their homes for a meal.
Recently our daughter Alicia was in hospital and it really couldn't have happened at a worse time for our family. My husband was due to preach at the Easter services on the following weekend and we had a house inspection coming up (not to mention the fact that she was only two weeks old and we were still adjusting to being a family of five). I stayed at the hospital with Alicia for six days, leaving my husband to look after the two girls and the normal household tasks.
For a lot people, when times like this occur, family can help with meals, cleaning and babysitting. However our families are a minimum of three hours away and we could have been facing a very difficult time.
Instead, our wonderful church family stepped in with baby sitting, cleaning the house before the house inspection, more meals then we could accept (we still have some in the freezer), grocery shopping, and my husband was given the week off work and and his two sermons were covered at short notice by our other minister. I even had some lovely friends come out of their way to keep me company at the hospital. They made sure that all we had to worry about was getting our little girl better.
Of course, not everyone in a church experiences this support. We are working for the church, and everyone knows our needs. We are very connected to lots of people. What I have come to realise is that to really experience true community and to enjoy the benefits of this community we need to be connected to people. We need to spend time with each other throughout the week, not just for a brief conversation on a Sunday over a cup of tea. If you want people to open their homes and lives to us, we need to be willing to open ours to them also.
You don't have to go to a church to find community,but in our culture this type of community and support is difficult to find outside of families. I love that as a Christian I can go almost anywhere and there will be a group of people meeting together as a church where I can experience this type of community. It won't be a perfect community but it will be a community whose values are based on love and forgiveness.
Church is not about a building, or hearing a sermon each week. Church is a family and like every family there are ups and downs but when it comes to the crunch that family will be there for you.