by Linda Ryan
It’s fall, and with it we began another year of Education for Ministry (EfM), a program of theological education geared basically for lay people although we have deacons in discernment and priests as part of our groups from time to time. Each year starts off with a disparate group of people who are scattered, at least in my group (EfM Online), from one end of the country to the other and never see each other much less form any bond with them. Over the course of the first few weeks, we work on what we call spiritual autobiographies (SAs), a way of looking at one’s life. Each year focuses on a different aspect of how we have lived those lives and what events have come our way that have changed, taught, or serve as a fork in the road our life. Another thing about SAs is that it is a very good way to get to really know people. We can’t share something like an SA without investing ourselves, at least a little, in what we’re saying.
Spiritual autobiographies always start at a base point, usually where a person was born, or a place where the family has lived, or with a group that represents a place of comfort, safety, trust, and love. For some people, home is where the family is regardless of the physical location. For some people it’s the actual physical location. For other people, it is someplace they have been and would like to go back to, or maybe a place where they have deep friendships and a lot of fond memories that make them feel happy and content. Each person has their own base point, that place where it all begins.
One thing that I hear in SAs just about every year is the story of how we became part of the Episcopal Church. It’s surprising how many people have said that they once walked into an Episcopal Church and immediately felt it was home. Whether it was the music, the liturgy, the friendliness of the people, or whatever, they felt right at home right away. A lot of them came from other churches where they didn’t feel they fit, or they felt they had grown past the point where they could accept where that church was leading them is in terms of formation. The church didn’t fit, so they went looking, and lo and behold, they found the Episcopal Church.
Jesus was a wanderer. He said in one of the gospels that he had no place to lay his head. What a predicament. He could have claimed Nazareth as his home, or wherever his mother Mary and the grown children lived, but he didn’t. The earth was his home only for a time. His real home was with God, and since God was always present, Jesus was always at home in a manner of speaking.
We learn the value of home when we have to leave it. We have to go out into a strange world, full of strange people, and were made uncomfortable by that. Our security and comfort is gone, and we have to rebuild it, if we can. I’m sure it’s that way for missionaries, who leave places like New York or Kansas City or who knows, maybe even in a very small town in the middle of nowhere. They go into a different world, and, for many of them, that world becomes their home. I think of a priest that I greatly admire, who works among the Native Americans in what is left of their tribal lands. They are her people, and she is part of their extended family. Each one accepts the other in love, respect, and mutual concern. It would be great if the world had a few more of those people, a few more people who might leave their home and pitch their tents in new places with new people, growing roots that will produce great trees or fields of flowers.
Walking in the church door is like a mini homecoming. We all consider the dwelling places in which we live to be our home, or at least our house. Even if the place we consider home is thousands of miles away, stepping through a church door, our church door, we find ourselves at home with people we can trust, people we are comfortable with, and people who share beliefs with us. That is, if we are in the right place. Those of us who felt at home in the Episcopal Church when we first entered most likely still feel that way. We are home, our family is around us, God is present among us, we have gazillions is of saints and angels about us, both live and celestial, and we are there for a similar purpose of sharing of his body and blood in the most intimate kind of family meal that one could imagine.
I wonder, where is home? Each of us has an answer, and the answers are as varied as the people being asked the question. But thinking theologically for a moment, is being part of a church like being at home? Is the door open for more relatives or potential relatives to join the family? Can we find trust there? Is there a sense of spiritual power there? And most importantly, is there a sense of “Come see what I’ve found!” there?
Take a look around. Where is your home? Are you willing and able to share that home with others? Try inviting them to dinner. Our particular church family meals are the Eucharists that we celebrate together. That’s how most of us found our new homes.
Invite someone to one of our special family meals. You might just be helping them find a home.
Image: The Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale, AZ. Used with permission from the Rev. Susan Brown Snook.