Church as Family: why I have a home
Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Jesus replied to him, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?” Jesus pointed to his disciples. He said, “Here is my mother! Here are my brothers! Anyone who does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother or sister or mother.” Matthew 12:48-50
Part of the church addressing the constantly undulating relationship between family and society means addressing the role of single people in communities.
In many ways, at 26, I feel largely unqualified to share thoughts on this. Being single is pretty easy for me; I live a daily reality that looks like flexibility and feels like freedom. Many of my friends are also single, so I don’t feel “left behind”. I have a stubborn streak toward building and maintaining community, and self-advocate for my needs as a single person to the community at large and personal friends in particular. I enjoy cross-generational friendships. I bake things with chocolate and feed people, which is always a community-builder.
I also have a theological framework for singleness that doesn’t include Christian-karma (God will send a spouse if I perform well for a certain period of time), and does include biblical support for my current status (God worked directly through the single-status of Jesus, Paul, Ruth, Esther, and Mary to name a few). Maybe most importantly, I see myself as part of The Church, which is my family. Wherever I go, I can show up among the church (the people, not the place) and find myself at home.
So it seemed perfectly normal to me to attend the Anglican Family conference last week, and I didn’t feel like I was just going as “a children’s curriculum writer” or “a former children’s ministries director”. I went as Robin, part of the church family: I eat the family meal each Sunday. I show up in the family living room with thoughts and questions. I get a little stressed out at the family dysfunctions. We don’t tell children that they can become part of the family when they are potty-trained or take out the trash, and it’s not appropriate to assume that single people will be any more inherently part of the church family when they begin to form a nuclear family themselves.
What is strange, though, is that single people are so often seen as servants (you’re available to help!) or recipients (you’ll just learn so much from spending an hour or two a week with a family!), or friends (“gosh, they’re just the best! we have so much fun together!”), instead of as brothers and sisters. I love to serve at church and I have received incredible gifts of time and friendship from families. However, the church is meant to be more than a series of transitional friendships; Jesus said that his disciples were his family.
Family derives life from the same source, and are bound by the same history, stories, and rituals in a way that brings growth, laughter and occasional tears. It’s where favorite and richest relationships can also be the most inconvenient ones. Knowing that you keep showing up when someone is needy or annoying is the beautiful part, though, because you’re going to be that person on another day.
When a nuclear family is formed in a healthy, intentional marriage, this type of community begins to take shape in the home. For church families, though, people who are not married might bring the gift of sensitivity and awareness. It’s not that churches are supposed to develop community for the sake of a few people, but that the church-as-family design is a gift of the Lord.
Single people are a good gift to the church, but also one of the most easily de-churched demographics. And when they leave, the whole church family misses out. We miss out on people who know how to take consistent steps of vulnerability and interdependence because they haven’t been able to look to a spouse to fill these needs for years or decades, people who have a unique openness to the Lord’s guidance because they are stewarding flexibility, and people who have learned how to expand their community in life-giving ways because transition means new friendships. In general, I know more single people who are adamant that “there is always room for one more” than I do married couples. Perhaps, in part, because they have been the relieved recipient of the open chair themselves.
So I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that churches become an increasingly welcome place for single people to find a home. And I’m hopeful that as the church family makes intentional, thoughtful, measured steps toward holistic community, they double-check that single brothers and sisters receive their invitation to the family meeting.