Yesterday morning Tom and I were able to worship at Peachblow United Methodist Church. It was the first time since August that we have been able to worship in the morning and it was the first time in a long time that we were able to take communion.
We worshiped at Peachblow in July and I wrote about its history then. It is a small congregation – there were about 30 in attendance – and Tom and I are younger than most of the other folks. Rev. Tom Keene preaches a good sermon. Yesterday he preached about the gifts we give each other, the gift God gives us, and the gifts we give God in return. God has given to us so extravagantly – are we giving extravagantly in return? It was a good sermon and a good service.
But the thing that really struck me about worshiping at Peachblow yesterday is how well all the people know each other. During prayers they mentioned someone’s Uncle Don and everyone knew who he was and what was wrong with him. They laughed about an incident that had happened at the church party the night before, which everyone had attended. They ignored the lady in the back who wouldn’t stop talking all through the service. They appreciated the simplicity of the decorations which I am sure don’t change much from year to year. The couple who lit the Advent candle knew which pieces to add to the nativity without anyone telling them. The people at this church know each other intimately and are intimately known. This knowledge is an extravagant gift of love to one another.
In a world where so many of us do not know our neighbors, where we live far from families, where the information we share at work is filtered and censored – how many of us are intimately known by anyone outside our household? Who would even notice if we suddenly went missing?
The gift of a church family is one of God’s extravagant gifts to us. At Peachblow everyone who attends worship is part of this family. In larger churches, our church family might be a Sunday School class or the choir or a softball team. It is a group of people who know us intimately – with whom we share our sorrows and joys – and are known in return. A church family knows our strengths and faults – and loves us anyway. It is a community of support when we are struggling, when we are weak, when we are ready to give up. A church family laughs with us, cries with us, and knows the deepest desires of our hearts.
Are you part of a church family like this? And if not, why not? Tom and I take advantage of this extravagant gift of God as much as possible but we miss having a church family that knows us intimately. We have so many surface conversations and we yearn for an in-depth question – how is it with your soul? – asked by someone who loves us. It is the hardest thing about traveling full-time. But we have participated in this gift for years and the people who are part of our church family on the road let us know that they still love us, still know us, and still pray for us every day.
If you are part of a church family, give thanks for this extravagant gift of love. If you are not, maybe you need to risk sharing yourself in order to receive this gift this Christmas. It takes time and effort and it isn’t easy, but knowing others intimately in their Christian walk and having others that know you and hold you accountable, is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. We need to receive this gift just as we receive grace and mercy because all of God’s gifts are welcome and needed as we journey in our lives.