Please sir, may I have some more…wineskins?
In our household, the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023 has been a blur of COVID, meltdowns (mostly from the kids) and sleepless nights courtesy of our 5 month old (who is rudely being, a 5 month old). A vicious combo, I assure you.
In the midst of said blur, various people from our little church community have dropped meals on our doorstep and snacks for our kids (and glow sticks for them to celebrate NYE). We’ve had numerous offers from people wanting to buy and bring us groceries. We didn’t ask for any of this.
In some ways what a very shitty way to start a new year.
In other ways, what a perfect reminder that we are bloody blessed.
It’s got me thinking about our little community and all the ways I love it.
To be honest, I reckon a decent chunk of people would question whether we are what they would even consider to be ‘church’. There are no sermons. We don’t gather on every Sunday of the month. We don’t in any way prescribe or desire uniformity of beliefs or theological views. Many of our crew would feel uncomfortable or uncertain around identifying as Christian. (I get paid a day a week to lead the thing and sometimes feel like I’m the biggest bloody heretic around.)
But on the other hand…
The level of love and care in our community is astounding. The response to our family’s NY COVID situation? Commonplace. Just a few days ago on Christmas Eve, someone needed a last minute doctors appointment. People in our community coordinated and made it happen. I could tell you story after story like this.
Our group chat is active most days of the week. Sometimes it’s banter. Sometimes it’s prayer requests (from people who confess they are unsure about whether prayer is even a worthy pursuit). Sometimes it’s deep sharing about a health challenge (mental or physical). Sometimes it’s an irreverent meme.
Our gatherings take place in our homes or in public parks. We follow very simple and loose liturgies. Scripture is often a part of our gatherings, though we create space to disagree with it, question it or just let it sit kind of awkwardly. Sometimes we sing. Sometimes we pray. Sometimes we just drink coffee and talk.
We did a rubbish pick-up the other week because one of our kids suggested it, then we broke bread and poured wine and grape juice into Keep Cups we brought from home.
We have a shared Google spreadsheet where people can post things they are happy to lend or wanting to borrow.
We regularly ask, ‘What does love in action look like this week/month/season?’
We have given thousands of dollars away together to people doing ‘good in our hood’.
Our podcast and website have reached thousands of people rethinking faith, with the simple message, they aren’t alone, and they aren’t crazy.
We talk a bit about Jesus. But more importantly, I reckon our ways of being together often look like (at least how I envisage) his life in the neighbourhood.
To be very clear, we’re absolutely not perfect.
It’s not for everyone. Some people have come and gone. Some have probably felt lost or left out, have maybe even exited quietly with another story of church disappointment.
Though we strive deeply for inclusion, I have no doubt we have at times unintentionally excluded.
I am sure our loose structure and strange rhythms could be off-putting.
Some of us would probably like more Bible and prayer and worship music. Some of us would probably like less.
The most demanding pastoral situations I’ve been involved with (in 7 years of employed pastoral ministry) have been in this space. I wish our people didn’t have to do so much work recovering from religious trauma. But many do. Not to mention the ‘normal’ crises of life and relationships and being human. Sickness and separations and grief and loss.
I don’t celebrate our community because it’s perfect; instead, I do so because it’s real. In every sense of the word.
And the reason I write this is because I want to say that communities like this can exist. And I am convinced we need more of them.
Robust, fleshy, inclusive communities of faith for the doubters and wounded. Places of gentle healing and soup on doorsteps.
If you’re in one, then you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not in one, maybe you’ve lost faith that a church could actually look like what I’m describing. There are so many good and valid reasons to lose faith in such a thing.
I know many aspects of what I’m describing can be found in local churches of all shapes and sizes. I don’t want to start that debate. If you’re part of a mega, micro or middle-of-the-road church that feels like what I’ve described above, congratulations. Please keep it up. The rich and multifaceted benefits people experience when they are in healthy faith communities just cannot be overstated.
But for so many people, that hasn’t been their experience. And the hunt for an authentic spiritual community may have actually led them out of a church, rather than into one.
For so many, the old ways don’t cut it anymore. The wine skins have burst.
But there is wine, my friend. And it is good.
I think many communities like this will (must) be birthed in years to come. But the period of conceiving and labouring and birthing is long. And scattered with so many reasons to lose heart.
I want to say though, if you long for a community like what I’ve described, hang in there.
Look. Ask. Seek. Knock. Demand. Organise. Initiate. Experiment. Fail. If you can muster the emotional energy, try again. And again. And again.
Be courageous and creative. Be cautious and careful. If your ego tells you that you’re solving some great problem or fixing everything broken tell ‘em to sober up. This isn’t a game for heroes. Too much harm has been done that way. Instead, may we answer the invitation to be curious and hopeful. In the brilliant words of Dave Tomlinson may we exercise our hope as ‘defiant imagination in the face of despair.’
May we continue to imagine
and pour wine
into vessels we can drink from,