Thursday, April 25, 2013

Family doesn't always mean Families

I read two articles yesterday about families and single people and how they do and don't work together in the Church.

Firstly, there was a piece in the Independent which said that 40% (or thereabouts) of single people in churches find that they feel 'inadequate', 'ignored', or 'not treated as family members' in their local congregations. Here's a key passage:

"People are incredibly loyal to their church. One of the key findings was that they felt embraced but whilst this should be something warm they said they often felt isolated and lonely. They say they are accepted but they are not included socially. They feel invisible and think about leaving."
"Accepted but not included socially." Goodness me.

The national statistics are interesting, and set a tough context in which to hear those words. More than 500,000 single person households have been created in the past decade with the number of single adults reaching 15.7m

David Pullinger, the researcher who analysed the data behind this report, added: "This is a time bomb for the church. All their natural contact points with the community tend to be with families - people coming forward for marriage, births and through Sunday school and church groups. They have to take seriously singles aged over 30 and think how they can reach out and embrace them and start to make it an attractive place for people to come."

Then I read this blog on friendship from JR Forasteros. He comments on the debunking of the proposed Friends sitcom reunion by co-creator Marta Kaufmann who said, "It’s not happening. Friends was about that time in your life when your friends are your family and once you have a family, there’s no need anymore."

Friends were your family until you grew up, became a real person, and had a real family. Then you didn't need friends anymore. JR talks about the devastating mistake that lies in those words, and how life is robbed by the loss of wider relationships - for married people, for single people, for whole communities.

The Church is a Family; but Family isn't always about families. Family is about belonging, and caring, and home and haven. It's about being accepted unconditionally and included without a second thought. Without a first thought. Just because.

I aimed in Pontypridd to grow a church that was all about Family. We had single people, children, adults, families, single parents, grandparents, widows, widowers, divorced people, young people, old people, women, men, those who came to everything and those who turned up once in a blue moon. Everyone was part of the Family.

There's a myth about churches, and about church leadership: the successful vicar is married with seven kids. Because he understands marriage. He cares about family. Let me say quite bluntly that these days, most people aren't married, but they still belong to the Family of God.

Relationships happen at all sorts of deep levels. Churches should foster every one of these. We should care for people as they start to think of how their adult lives will look, and as they shape those lives with relationships that work and fail, and as some commit in marriage and mutual love, and as some find that path not to be theirs. We should care for people who care for children, and for people who care for parents, and for people who have never been cared for. We should love the bereaved and the depressed and the sick and the unloveable every bit as much as our heroes and role models and pin-ups and those we follow on Twitter. We should love those whose families are perfect and picture-postcard and the envy of everyone else. We should love those who have lost, and those who never knew such a family. We should embrace the lonely; those who have always been lonely, and frankly couldn't be anything else if they tried; and those who find loneliness shocking and unfamiliar and unbearable. We should throw parties for new members as they come into this world; and for heart and soul members as they go on before us to the world to come.

And so what if this is an ideal that seldom really works out in real life? We should have ideals and then live with the demands they make on us and laugh and love in the face of the days when they are just damned impossible.

I'm a single bloke, and any time I have any responsibility in a church I will run a Family Church. I don't know how to do anything else. But if you think that means it's all about 'families', you haven't begun to understand what I'm about.

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