Apparently, for me, home is not where the heart is.
It’s where I place my butt.
When I accepted my first Call to ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Attica we moved from a small apartment in NYC to a huge Victorian (complete with a back staircase!). The move was an easy one, involving a small UHaul and a stop by Bill’s grandmother’s to pick up a Dining Room set. We grabbed furniture from my parent’s basement, and took donations from friends, and slowly assembled our new home – piece by gently-used piece.
Except…. we didn’t have a couch. Old chairs, lovingly garbage-picked by my Dad decades earlier, yes. Couch? No.
And so this wonderful wee church came to our rescue and collected money for us as a ‘move in’ gift. We took our gift certificate to Attica Furniture and bought a lovely loveseat, and then pronounced our house a home.
Twenty-some years and several years later I dragged that sofa to the curb. It was well-used and well-loved and I cannot begin to count the books that were read while I sat on it. It was the preferred seat for the dog, the cat and those who visited. It was comfortable for many years – although it had several slipcovers in the last few years of its life. In so many ways, it represented comfort and ‘home’.
Recently, the congregation at the Roselle church gave Bill and I an incredibly generous gift as we left NJ. I knew immediately what it would be used for – and that new comfy couch now rests with two new comfortable chairs in the living room of our apartment. It was symbolic (and somewhat amusing) that those pieces didn’t arrive until after we had been in our new place for a few weeks. And again, it wasn’t until those pieces were in place that the place could be called ‘home’.
All of this has me reflecting on how many of us who are connected with established faith communities equate church with ‘home’. I’ve been asked, ‘Have you found a church home?’ – i.e., ‘have you found a place where you are nourished and fed and comfortable?’ And although I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, I think it may be part of what is wrong with us as ‘church people’. We’re looking for the Church of the Comfy Couch – a place where we can watch the world from the comfort of our microfibered soft space, when what the world needs is folks who are uncomfortable with sitting.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for soft places to land after a difficult day – and I know there are many times when the church provides that same sort of space for us. And what of the greatest gifts we can give one another is a comfy space to rest one’s weary bones (for me, Psalm 23 is all about God providing just such a place). But I’m not so sure that’s what the church is called to do. Rather, I’m not sure that is the end, but rather the means to another end.
In other words – it is a wonderful and lovely thing that I associate church with comfort, but unless that comfort is balanced with a good helping of challenge, I’ve missed the mark. Church is more than just a place to get refreshed and renewed (and to comfortably rest one’s butt)… it’s a place to be poked and prodded and spurred on to do all those incredible life-giving things we are called to do. We’re not called to go to church, but to BE the church – and that requires us to move from the comfy couch into the world.