Someone told me a lovely story this week. Of how they found their way back to church.
It happened a couple of Christmases ago. They hadn’t been in church for years. Didn’t miss it. Didn’t think they needed it. Didn’t see situations or questions in their life that were needing solutions… that church might answers to. Hadn’t really thought about church at all for years, they explained.
But then, out of the blue, someone invited this person to come to church on Christmas Eve. They don’t know why their friend thought of them or of inviting them to church. Or why they accepted. My friend explained that even 3 years later, most of it remains a mystery, but what they found has become more clear.
My friend walked into church on that Christmas Eve and said they were immediately transported to someplace different. They explain it wasn’t just the difference between the cold outdoors and the warmth indoors. The change felt more existential. Walking into church, into a congregation where they only knew the one person who had invited them, still something about church instantly clicked or worked for them. They knew it was a gift they could give themselves just by staying involved.
Three years later, my friend has found their place in church, which is now strengthened by all the relationships that incarnate, support and further the lessons church is trying. My friend says that “It amazes me how much my church participation has added to my life.”
I asked if they could name some of the differences church has made for their life. They began talking, excitedly:
“Church just makes me feel better. And be better. You know how they say church-goers are healthier? I think it’s not just physical.
Church improved me and my life from that first Christmas, but it’s grown or deepened over these last years. That first night back, it was probably the sights and sounds; how they hearkened back to another time in my life. The familiarity of childhood. Where my family made me feel safe.
But over time, my experience has changed qualitatively; magnified, but also transformed. I have been listening, and I have sort of grown up in faith. And all the church’s challenges and lessons they get lived out in all the relationships, new people in my life.
I feel better about myself and the world, and church — changing my perspectives, or what I can see — that’s been a big part of it. But what has taken the longest is helping me feel better about other people.
God’s in there somewhere too. I can’t say where exactly, can’t explain it, but I don’t doubt it.
And I can do more things, things I never thought possible because of church. Often it’s little things, responses or actions or kind words, that no one but me will ever notice or know about. But a few times, I have sort of risen to occasions that surprised me, and if you ask me about why or how, I’d actually say it might be faith. Or at least the support of my faith community.
So I don’t feel so alone and overwhelmed. Even when humbly I better accept my limitations. Church just makes things better for me.”
I wish everyone could have that experience! But no one can if we do not invite them. Christmas is an easy invite; and imagine if just a word of invite is needed to occasion such a gift. A gift to the individual so “transformed.” But, I bet as in my friend’s case, a gift also to the faith community enriched by another person and their experience, energy, inspiration and love.
Folks, could you take a minute; think who you might invite to join you in church; and then extend the invitation. “Would you like to come to church with me on Christmas Eve?” It could turn out to be both a gift to someone you know and a gift to our church.
See you (with guests!) in church,