By John Hodge
At some point in the last two years, I became my church’s designated house-sitter. It wasn’t something I planned, it just kind of happened. Now, whenever someone in my church goes out of town, I am invariably asked to come over and look after their home and their pets while they are away. House-sitting is something I enjoy, especially since some of the people at my church have much better televisions, kitchens, and grills than a graduate student like myself! I also get to enjoy playing fetch and tug-of-war with the homeowner’s pets.
As much fun as hanging out in someone else’s house can be, though, there is always something a little strange about being in someone else’s home when they are not around. While I go through the same motions that I would go through at my house — eating, sleeping, showering and reading — there is always the realization that I am not in my own home. Something is missing. I believe that this feeling comes because it is not the kitchen, or the television, or even the pets that turn this collection of walls and a roof into an actual home. People are needed to create lived experiences, memories, and love that truly make a place, a home.
Thinking about “home” causes me to think about how the search for that feeling of home impacts our faith. Many churches put this concept of home into practice by referring to other attendees as "brother," or "sister." Such terms show the deep connection that people in a church family have to one another and how a church can become a second home. Also, the activities that go on in a church often mimic those that happen in the home: we eat with people, share the good and bad that happen in our lives, and we play together. (Not to brag but I am currently the potato-sack race champion of my church!) Those of us in the church attempt to build relationships that bring us closer to each other and closer to God. In this holiest of assemblies we look for the mundane things that mimic the home.
However, just as the home can be a place of great joy and comfort, it can also be a place of deep hurt. Events like the failing of marriages, domestic violence, and emotional abuse are able to grow and fester inside the home in ways that they could not elsewhere. Just as the church can imitate the desired aspects of home, it can also echo the undesired aspects as well. Sadly, in the same way that bad things can fester in the home; rejection, judgment and other destructive tendencies can fester in our churches. Therefore, when we talk about the church being a home, we also need to recognize that sometimes destructive acts take place underneath the steeples in our neighborhoods.
We must ask ourselves: What image of home are we going to live into in our churches? How can we incorporate the beneficial images of home in church? First, we need to recognize that some people have indeed been hurt in our churches. Only when we realize that we have at times incorporated the worst aspects of home can we move past them.
Secondly, it is not enough just to recognize the fact that hurt has taken place; we will need to take measures to remedy that hurt and grow the relationships that make home a place of comfort. We must not be satisfied with the creation of shallow relationships in our churches. Rather, we need to support programs and activities that allow people to foster relationships that are more than just a casual Sunday morning acquaintance. Next time you are in church, tell the people around you how you appreciate their being a part of what makes your church home for you.
Also, we need to work to incorporate more people into our church home so that the feeling of a healthy home can be shared. If we do these things, we can create a place where people feel that they are truly at home.