While at a meeting recently, we were asked to place ourselves in a group based on the church size where we grew up. Here were the choices, as I remember them:
- a small church (fewer than 50 people)
- mid-size church
- a larger suburban or urban church
- a mega church
Do you notice what is missing?
In a world where we can no longer assume that people are growing up with a church home, even within leaders of the church, we had forgotten something important. Or, perhaps we were demonstrating one of our biggest challenges.
We think about our experiences, our needs, and our preferences. In the process we forget those who do not have a relationship with each other, with Jesus, or with the community.
Once we found our way to our groups, we were asked to share with one another what we remembered about the church where we grew up. Our circle had the most number of people.
I sighed (quietly) in a bit of relief.
Where did you grow up?
I needed a minute to think about how I would answer the question. After all, “Why did I choose this group?” I didn’t grow up with a church home. I grew up in a Christian home, in a Christian neighborhood, with Christian values and a culture that taught me what love means in ways I have sometimes struggled to experience in the church.
But, if I am honest, in the depths of my soul I wanted to stand in the middle of the room and say, “I am the one that we overlook week in and week out.”
The meeting was just beginning. I chose to keep quiet. Perhaps I should have spoken up.
As the individuals in my group shared their memories of pastors they loved, of people who shaped them, of communities that formed them in Christ, my answer came to me. It is an answer I have offered many times. “I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. I did not have a church home but was taken to Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Baptist Churches with my friends and neighbors.” No one picked up on “I did not have a church home.”
Hear me: I don’t lament the fact that I didn’t have a church home as a child. I experienced the church in ways that often excluded me at the communion table and in other rituals in the churches I did attend. I was curious about what we experienced. I loved going to VBS. But, I had another home that shaped me.
Shaped By Community
A home that I continue to recognize taught me about Jesus by living like Jesus. The home that provided me shelter was more than a roof over my head. It is my family who models love, compassion, forgiveness, laughter, play, dedication, hard work, routine, love, love, and more love. It is in this home I learned the values of integrity, the importance of purpose, the promise of a new day, and yes, love.
It occurred to me that perhaps what shaped me and my willingness to let go of my preferences, to see the mission field around me in my neighborhood comes from my experiences, too. Perhaps the gift I offer to the church is that I didn’t grow up in a church building. I grew up in a community that taught me what it means to be the church in a neighborhood.
It was a community that recognized the gifts of many: The italian food Mr. Dan and Mrs. Lorraine cooked was devoured quicker than they could make it. Mrs. Raff was ready with a craft for the kids. Mrs. Roe opened her in-the-ground pool for a special swim treat. My Mom would always be home for the kids, have an extra cup of sugar, and meet you on the front porch after dinner. While Dad met Mr. Barbour, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Dan, and Mr. Troy in front of their finely manicured lawns, we kids knocked on doors and came pouring out into the streets for a game of hide and go seek, or a swim in one of our backyard pools.
No, my neighborhood wasn’t the church. But it was a community.
It was a community that celebrated, mourned, grieved, fought, laughed, taught, lived, spoke truth, and journeyed together. Even to this day, through death, birth, marriage, moving, and lots of change, when asked where I grew up, my heart overflows with joy. The memories of where I grew up are filled with joy as well as pain and heartache. Some of the most beautiful moments of my life began on Brookshire Drive. So did some of the hardest moments.
While Brookshire Drive is still home to many, it is no longer home to the families who lived there while I was growing up. (Oh, wait, I’m still growing up!)
Much has changed on that street, in that neighborhood, and even in the school where we grew up. Ark Sterling Bowling Lanes now sit next to an auto parts store, not a grocery store. (Is it even called Ark Sterling any longer? I do not know!) But, Roger’s Roost, Margaret Black Elementary, and Big Boy still anchor the neighborhood.
As we moved to different parts of Michigan, or into Illinois, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and other parts of the world, we may have moved on from the place where we grew up.
One thing remains: I carry with me life lessons from that neighborhood. Because it was the neighborhood that offered me my first lessons in what it means to be a Christian community.
The neighborhood, the community, the city where you live is rich with gifts and assets. Perhaps the next time we ask a question, we’ll simply ask, “Where did you grow up?” followed by, “What did it teach you about community?” Maybe then we can begin to explore how essential the neighborhood is to the community we call the church. Maybe then we can begin to see Christian community is less about who is already there and more about creating a place for the one who is not there.
Today, I give God thanks for the Corsi, Roe, Sperrick, Sputa, Bass, Merline, Raff, Thomas (Times two), Barbour, Troy, and Couch families. There were many others on Brookshire Drive. These saints gave me the gift of experiencing the faithfulness of community. In intentional and unexpected ways, they help me to see the every day mission field I call my neighborhood.
How about you, where did you grow up? Who did you grow up with? What did they teach you about community?