In my 24 years as the pastor of the same congregation, I have had occasions when I discovered something about the congregation that took me completely by surprise. One such occasion happened a few years ago when two women, who were serving on a committee with me, confessed that despite worshipping in adjacent pews for several years and having children in the same Sunday school classes they hardly knew each other. I hadn’t assumed that they were necessarily close friends, but I never dreamed that they would feel so disconnected.
In part I assumed that they were well acquainted because when I first came to St. Timothy’s many people were very well connected. To some extent that was because the congregation was smaller, but it was also because people had taken the time to get connected. For example, back in the day we just hung around after services and talked with each other rather than immediately heading home or rushing off to do errands. We were willing to “waste” a little time with each other. My sense now is that we don’t have time to waste with each other, not because we don’t care about other, but because the busyness of life means that we are forever trying to catch up with the things on our to do list. In regards to the aforementioned two women, I had just assumed that if people are in a congregation long enough—let alone sitting near each other week after week—they would develop significant connections with each other. So much for assumptions.
According to the Bible, we are all hard-wired to be connected to other people. At the beginning of the biblical story, our scriptures tell us that we were created for community: “It is not good that man should be alone (Gen. 2:18).” The rest of the biblical story is about God’s relentless effort to keep us connected when we constantly choose to live in ways that disconnect us from our neighbors.
This Sunday my congregation begins a series of listening sessions for parents with children. The purpose of the listening sessions is to discover how this community can support parents in bringing up their children in the Christian faith and life. We want to hear about our parents hopes and dreams for their children and what they need from this church so raise their children to become disciples. I don’t presume to know what will come from this process. However, I do believe I know this much: If these parents don’t get to know each other and support each other as they raise their children in the Christian faith and life, they won’t have what they need. Raising kids in the faith in a culture resistant to gospel values requires a lot of support. If they don’t have adequate support, most parents just eventually give up because they have joined this battle without the requisite number of troops to support them.
Of course, the need for communal support on the faith journey isn’t just true for parents. Disciples of all ages need companions who will encourage and support them. If our faith journey is an individual affair, like the parents trying to raise their kids we will probably eventually give up.