The phrase makes me cringe. It makes me shudder. Not because the idea of not having a home church is in itself cringe-worthy. The reason I shudder at those words is because they left my mouth one too many times when the reality was far from this. It was a lie. For a while I carried that phrase with me in my head and in my heart and wore it like a badge. If church outside of university life came up in conversation it would slip off my tongue casually but with defensive and bitter undertones. As if ‘yeah I don’t really have a home church’ added to the mysterious Christian girl image I did not have going on in the first place. *sigh, face-palm, leave the room*
Oh hindsight, how I love you.
Truth be told, I have two home churches and one big ol’ church family and it’s the family that’s the most important thing. I always knew that it wasn’t the building that made the church but the people in it. Yet I spent my first year as a Christian feeling uncomfortable and a little jealous whenever home churches were spoken about. When asked, I would always say how I went to a youth group at a church and a small group when I was in primary school and the first years of high school. This was true, but I was always too quick and keen to have it said as if it validated me as a believer in front of people who I deemed to have been born and bred in Sunday school. I spent my childhood Sunday mornings at the rugby club (I didn’t play.. my dad coached and they served chips after…), in the pool of my local leisure centre or more recently I spent them being cold and wet in a kayak on the river Trent. I attended church services, but never regularly.
I can’t remember much at all about the first church service I attended in Birmingham (my uni city). I can’t remember who preached, what they spoke about or what songs were sung. I do, however, remember a lot about the walk home. Me and my friend had barely left the parking lot when I confirmed aloud for the first time that I was now a Christian. A few questions, an awkward hug and a prayer later and that was that. The first of many Sunday walks to and from a cricket ground home to Oasis Church. It didn’t even cross my mind that there were other churches to go to within those first few months.
Oasis was exactly what it said on the tin. An oasis. A place of calm and tranquility for a new believer to sit and grow and drink it all up. It was exactly what I needed at the time and I didn’t have a doubt that this was where God had placed me and wanted me to be. After all, they have jam doughnuts every single Sunday. The word for my soul and sugar in my stomach. What more could a girl want on a Sunday morning? Happy days.
Back to this amazing thing called hindsight and that church youth group I talked about going to when I was younger. Well, now when I’m back in Nottingham during the holidays I attend The Rock Church. It’s ran and lead by the same amazing married couple who ran and lead the youth group I went to. I used to sit in their lounge for small group as a kid and now I sit in a community hall where they hold church every Sunday. (The same hall I attended nursery in as a kid). Just as Oasis Church has been everything I needed in Birmingham, The Rock Church has been the firm foundation I needed to come home to. To be welcomed in with the comfort of familiar faces and the pleasure of getting to know new friends and families.
Sometimes it’s been hard to feel settled and at home in both churches as I’d be gone and in a different city for months and it could feel like starting again but I’ve been really pushed to get involved; burst out of that student bubble and move forward from the back row.
What experiencing this and reflecting on this has taught me is that the value of having a church family to call home is far greater than having (what I view as) a traditional home church. For me having a home church/family is warm hugs on arrival, a group chat on whatsapp for encouragement and prayer, a podcast to listen to when I’m not always there, coffee with your pastor, ‘how are you’ with meaning, house-sitting for the couple who run your small group, student lunches, opportunity for prayer and accountability and no judgement when I reach for another doughnut (‘I didn’t have time for breakfast, I swear!’)
I love my churches and the people that form the family. I’m so thankful for them and how I can look back and see that I always had that connection to a church and had a church family to come home to. Both churches are ‘home’ but if I left them both tomorrow I wouldn’t be homeless. I came home when I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour not by becoming a member of a church. Wherever I go to church and whoever shapes my church family Jesus is always with me. My personal and mobile home.