When you think of home what image comes into your mind? Sitting curled up on a big comfy sofa, wrapped in a blanket with hands round a steaming mug of cocoa surrounded by family and friends in animated conversation maybe. And what feelings does it evoke? Being warm and comfortable, knowing that you are loved and accepted. A place to feel safe and where it’s OK to be yourself. We all seem to be made with a longing for home whether we have been fortunate enough to experience it or not.
I have been blessed to have been part of churches that have felt like home. Places where I have been cared for by the community and been introduced to the unconditional love and acceptance of a heavenly father. More recently, however, I have felt exiled from this expression of home because I began to see things differently and was unable to express what I was thinking and feeling so that the body I am a part of could understand. It caused me much pain, frustration and disappointment. But according to theologian Walter Brueggemann, it is only out of grief that newness comes. By experiencing the loss of home and letting go of that old expression of what it means to belong, a fresh vision of what is possible can be born.
In the last month I have met a couple of very different church leaders who have both seen their ministry in the church to be two-fold – giving established churches with dwindling congregations “a good death” as well as encouraging fledging expressions of faith that are springing up in unexpected places as small bands of often hurt and disaffected Christians dare to dream again and experiment with what it means to come together in the name of Christ for the benefit of those whom they live among. One of these ministers quoted the words of Jesus in John 12:24, “I tell you the truth unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” This was the immediate future for the church in the UK as he saw it – death leading to resurrection.
But having gone through my own experience of exile and then re-creation by developing outreach to spiritual seekers and gathering a missional community to explore together what it means to create home for those a long way from the God who made them and yearns to be in relationship with them, I have recently received healing and reconciliation from the church that was home. I took the risk of going again and in facing the potential for rejection found that God was revealing to others issues I had wrestled with. Old friends welcomed me with open arms, leaders who did not understand my struggle sought my forgiveness and I was told how much I was loved and missed. This does not mean that I can go back and fit the way I did before, but actually that’s OK. I am coming to a new acceptance of who I am and doing the hard emotional work of learning what it is to be home with myself.
If church can truly equate to home, a place of security and honesty from which to adventure, the experience of pioneering might be very different. But like the butterfly maybe it’s in the fight to emerge from the cocoon that the strength and determination to journey comes. To skip the grief is to forfeit the newness. I can testify that in having felt so far away, the homecoming is all the sweeter.