May 12, 2010

Of Fabric and French Silk

2010 1513 page6 capn “my salad days, when I was green in judgment,”1 I worried aloud to pastoral colleagues when I discovered that some large number of those attending my midweek prayer meeting were at least as interested in the visit to the pie restaurant that followed the gathering as they were in the erudition of my Bible teaching.
“French Silk,” I muttered from my wounded ego. “To have the teaching of the Word of God placed on a par with a piece of pie is insulting. How can I be expected to lead this church into a deeper study of Scripture when all the while they’re thinking about whipped cream and chocolate shavings?”
And then I learned, or at least began to learn, that a healthy church community is formed of many more things than those a pastor may initially be interested in. My pure and holy vision of disciples gathered breathlessly about the Word took too little notice of the lives my members actually lived—selling real estate, raising toddlers, building homes, repairing tractor-trailer rigs. While I planned and strategized for what turned out to be three pleasant years as their pastor, they were weaving a fabric of mutual relationships and support that made their church the vital loom for most of what they did.
2010 1513 page6They knew how to grieve with those who grieved, to stand in solidarity when a cherished elder member was laid to rest or a young couple lost a baby. They knew how to celebrate the markers and the milestones of everyday existence: the job promotions; the eighth-grade graduations; the engagement parties; the round of birthdays and anniversaries.
And they knew how to laugh, which was something I was just beginning to legitimate as a proper emotional response to living in a church community. Sometimes the laughter erupted at my expense, as when some sly senior citizen would request a hymn to be sung at prayer meeting that vocalized non-Adventist theology (Warning here: “I’ll Fly Away” does not reflect standard Adventist teaching on the state of the dead). Other times, it was the laughter that rolled over the body of Christ as childish stage fright during Thirteenth Sabbath children’s programs was redeemed by waves of affirmation.
I had stumbled, gratefully, into the center of a functioning church community where members liked and loved each other, took notice of each other, and built their lives around the intersections that came through belonging to the same faith group. Worship was but one of the times they met each other during the week, and I came to respect the role that even French Silk pie played in holding that community together. Where once I worried that the Word was not important enough to these members, I came to rejoice that the Scripture was more woven into the tapestry of their dailyness than I at first had eyes to recognize. They were the most cohesive fellowship I ever had the privilege to serve, and 20 years later, I rarely think of them without a smile . . . and a memory of the taste of chocolate shavings.
Where did we ever get the notion that the body of Christ need only meet for 2.47 hours every Sabbath morning, or that its mission in a place can be summed up in sermons preached and listened to or Bible studies given? What reading of the book of Acts can be cited to justify our usual discounting of the things that make for “body life”—meals shared, griefs borne, journeys taken together? A community of faith, like every other kind of community, is built—or better, woven—by the threads that integrate the daily lives of believers with each other and their neighbors, rather than separating them out for only what is visible within the sanctuary walls.
If you belong to such a community, enjoy it, and enrich it. If you do not, then find a loom, and join me in some weaving. 

1 The line is from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and was famously quoted by Queen Elizabeth II during her Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977.

Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published May 13, 2010.