Tuesday night was one of the highlights of my week. For 5 years, every time this usually average day of the week rolled around, I looked forward to good food, company and community. I moved away from home when I was 18 to a new area that was far enough away from my family to mean that I only really saw them once every couple of months. But Tuesday night felt like family to me.
The setting was – you may have guessed – a church ‘small group’. These come in many different forms and are called all kinds of things, but fundamentally they gather together a handful of Christians who want to make space in their week to meet with each other and meet with God. We were young, old, working, studying, and retired. We were conservative and liberal. We were Kiwi, English, Japanese, and Indian. We were musical and tone-deaf. We were raging extroverts and reflective thinkers.
We were definitely a family – and I knew that because we were really quite dysfunctional… But somehow it worked, and for 5 years I decided to stick with this family.
There are lots of times in my life when I look around and realise that I’ve accidentally surrounded myself with people that are basically the same as I am. Don’t we all do that sometimes? We feel safe around those with a similar social background, or educational level, or political perspective. And that is fair enough – Sometimes we need to know we’re with people who ‘get’ us, and we need to feel safe in the knowledge that the things we hold dear are accepted by everyone in the room.
But what about the times when we need to be out of our comfort zone? Or be challenged by a perspective that we had never even thought of? Or cared for really well by a community when we find ourselves without the networks we had before?
There’s a story about Jesus in Mark 2. He is – as he often is – found in a place he shouldn’t have been, hanging around with people he shouldn’t have been hanging around with (according to the religious authorities of the day). He is found eating a meal with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ which is a contextually appropriate way of talking about people that didn’t really fit into society for various reasons and got a bit lost along the way.
But Jesus sits and eats with them.
I’m going beyond the text a little here, but I imagine that what was happening was conversation, the sharing of stories, wisdom being passed around the table, gentle encouragement paired with gentle challenge. This is a collection of people that probably wouldn’t have found their way to each other, unless Jesus had gone out of his way to create a shared moment of community.
Which, I think we’d all agree, is always better with food.
That is the beauty of faith-based groups. We find ourselves alongside people we probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. 19-year-old students can become friends with pensioners, and they help each other to see the world from the perspective of the other.
Today, people often live in small isolated units, cut off from extended family. We lose the opportunity for multi-generational friendships, and I think that is a tragedy. My Tuesday night family taught me not only how to appreciate other people’s perspectives, but even more than that they taught me about the faith that we all hold dear.
Sometimes faith causes conflict, builds walls and leads people further apart from each other. If you ask me that’s a sure sign of when faith has gone wrong. Open any of the gospels and you’ll find Jesus building community between different groups and calling people to love one another. My Tuesday night family is just one example of the ways that faith can bring people together, and allow us to step outside of our culture of isolation to share a bit of life with other people.
Christie recently upgraded her surroundings in Watford to leafy Cambridge to learn how to be a Vicar. When not learning about all things to do with the Church of England, you’ll find her creating endless Spotify playlists, painting things and feeding people great chickpea curries in an effort to help the world be a bit more veggie.
Tweet her: @ChristieBroomie