Greetings from our extended stay home in Minnesota, the land of sub-zero temps and fierce snow storms! Jim and I are braving the elements of February and March to enjoy quality time with our daughter, son-in-law, and five delightful, boisterous, and charming grandsons. Our warmer weather snow bird friends in Florida and Arizona feel a bit sorry for us. But somehow the frigid Midwest isn’t quite so bitter when you’re with ones that you love.
We also appreciate the opportunity to experience the Wednesday night Lenten Soup and Study at Riverside Evangelical Church, in Sartell, MN, where my son-in law pastors. Our time together is brief: one short hour of downing three bowls of homemade soup, (well, I couldn’t eat just one!) and a study on spiritual growth. About thirty adults and a seemingly endless number of kids push pause mid-week to gather, to be challenged through God’s word, and to bless each other with their presence.
Indeed, blessing is evident. The joy displayed in re-connecting with one another overflows. Kids immediately find each other and jump right into imaginary play or board games. Adults commune in the kitchen as they set out the evening meal. As the soup warms my body, community warms my soul.
Hundreds of miles away, (and 30 degrees warmer I might add!), my own church is gathering on Wednesdays as well. Sandy, a member of my ministry team recently posed the question, “Whatever happened to Wednesday nights? We go out and make disciples but couldn’t we get back to inviting people in?” The outcome of that conversation is a series of monthly Wednesday seminars for the purpose of instruction and inspiration to community both within and beyond our church walls.
My church family, Park Street Brethren, is opening its arms wide to both friends and strangers. We celebrate togetherness as we learn how following Jesus can bring transformation in our marriages, our children, and our individual journeys. And again, I praise God for the nourishment of community.
Developmental healing expert, Dr. Anne Halley, teaches that the longing to belong in community is one of our most primal core breaths. Like oxygen to the body, we need the fulfillment of belonging to survive. Halley notes that a child learns to cope in destructive ways to self and others if the need of belonging is unmet. When a child continues this pattern into adulthood, a season of healing is necessary that parent educators Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson identify as, “growing up again.”
When human brokenness connects with loving people, there is opportunity for belonging. A group of accepting folks nurtures that little, lonely four year old living in a forty year old body. A community that trumpets “Welcome!” calms the anxious thirty-something that still feels like a middle schooler outside the cool kids circle. This posture should be first and foremost in our churches. A Christ-centered church mirrors Jesus’ humility as we prioritize our neighbor’s well-being. Henri Nouwen, who writes extensively on spiritual community notes, “we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own.”
A community that reflects Nouwen’s vision opens the door for a lonely soul to grow up again. A safe place to belong allows for a restoration of what the prophet Joel proclaims, “the years that the locusts have eaten.” Perhaps the simple act of reinstituting Wednesday nights, or any time that blesses the broken, will lead to a new reality of belonging that our world so deperately needs.
Excerpts from Maya Angelou’s poem, “Alone” give voice to this urgency.
Lying, thinking Last night How to find my soul a home Where water is not thirsty And bread loaf is not stone I came up with one thing And I don’t believe I’m wrong That nobody, But nobody Can make it out here alone. Now if you listen closely I’ll tell you what I know Storm clouds are gathering The wind is gonna blow The race of man is suffering And I can hear the moan, ‘Cause nobody, But nobody Can make it out here alone. Alone, all alone Nobody, but nobody Can make it out here alone.