again to all.
This week we came across a cache of catechetical materials published in the 1950s by the entity once known as Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. They're wonderful, in their way: deliberate, well-organised, produced attractively according to the standards of their day, and internally consistent with respect to the programmes they were produced to support.
A major theme of these books is their contention that Church is Home, and that Home is Church. The vision of ecclesiastical domesticity is, we're sure, intended as an extended reflexion on the psalm's beautiful statement that
Through plans for church activities and Sunday School lessons, with suggestions for appropriate foods and music, customs to observe, attitudes to be encouraged, and games to be played, this idea is driven home, as it were. Ilustrated with equal numbers of boys and girls, physical diversity amongst them only extends to including children with curly hair and freckles as well as with straight hair and no freckles. Over it all preside nearly-flustered-but-never-angry women who reflect the matrifocal domestic life depicted in contemporary published and broadcast media. Occasionally children and women also enter the church, where men in cassocks and surplices celebrate the public rites that have been explained lovingly and carefully through domestic rites in nursery and kitchen. With these activities and roles, these curricula proclaim, church can be home, and home can be church. Dr Freud would have a field day, as well he might.
We don't mean at all to cynically dismiss these materials, on which generations of churchfolk were nourished. The concepts of church as home, and home as church — and church in home, and home in church — resonate deeply with us. We've thrilled to the modern and effective website Full Homely Divinity, for example, and its provision of resources for domestic celebrations within and without church. In the best of worlds, both home and church are places where we belong, where we long to belong, where we can 'live and move and have our our being' knowing all of God's gifts for the good things they are. If it were possible to bottle Anglikanische Gemütlichkeit, you can be sure we'd sell it by the precious millilitre in our online shop.
Yet we wonder if some of the bigger problems in our churches might not stem from misunderstandings of church as 'my home, too'. Home is, after all, the place where many of us feel most comfortable. We allow clutter to build up, we omit our table manners, neglect maintenance, and forget about our neighbours just on the other side of the wall or fence. The meet and right — and good and joyful — sense of comfort and trust that comes from being at home are very wonderful things. But as so often with what is best in life, the other side of comfort and the wrong side of trust are very terrible, and homes are the primary place where many of us experience our worst sadnesses. Homes are broken, and homes are lost. Home can be a place to hide from the world as well as a place to be safe from troubles within it. The right balance of health seems quite as easily upset at home as it is in church.
If there's something worth knowing anew from books like The Church is My Home, Too, it must be that church can be quite permeable to problems brought in from home, just as home can be influenced adversely by problems brought home from church. It's important to temper the idea of the church domestic with the awareness that church, like home, is a gift from God. It is not to be owned or controlled. It isn't to be used as a place for the free and unchecked expression of emotional problems. Church can be — and is — a loving community of persons, and home can be — and is — too.
We'd like more and more Anglicans to think of church as home, and to have a high enough opinion of what home and church mean that we see it's all worth doing very well indeed.
See you next week.
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