Post Author: Jodi Hinrichs
I have seen various versions of this meme going around Facebook, and while I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment, I generally just glanced past the posts without much thought. That is, until a friend posted this one. This one hit me differently.
When I look at this image, I am instantly transported into that building. Many of my earliest memories are of that place – hearing the story of how I took my first steps in that kitchen with its yellow flecked linoleum floor and countertops, anxiously awaiting the Sunday School year when I would finally be in the coveted room that had the huge rainbow mural on one wall, crawling around on the shuffleboard-covered floor to pick up the yarn scraps left by the quilting ladies, sitting four pews from the front on the pulpit side and looking at the sky blue dome behind the altar, practicing the phone number (which I knew before my home phone number) for the rare times I was home alone so that I had a way to contact my mom–a key volunteer before she became a staff member. This building was just as much my home as the house I lived in.
The point of this meme, though, is that church is not a building, but a family. Of course, family is a loaded word, and admittedly, I don’t always love it when it comes to describing the church. In my case, however, the church as family during my growing up years holds positive connotations. If I consider my family of origin, it includes my mom, my dad, and my older sister. And it also includes the people who entered the doors in that picture on a regular basis. They were my family, in the best sense of the word. It was among those people that I was raised in faith. Many of them knew me before birth; some had known my father since his birth, and others joined along the way. It was among those people that I learned about God. It was among those people that I was I was claimed as God’s own with the waters of baptism. It was those people who reached out to my immediate family through the mundane and the tough days of life. It was those people who surrounded my family with food and babysitting and love as my dad faced terminal cancer and as we learned to live without him. It was among those people that I grew in faith, learned to question what I believe, and first felt called to ordained ministry. It was the people of that place who gathered to celebrate my ordination, to support me as I began ministry in the wider church.
The celebration of my ordination makes it bittersweet to look at this meme now. I don’t get to worship in that building with those very same people anymore. I don’t get to be a part of the life of that place—the dinners, the committee meetings, or the special events. I don’t get to be a regular part of my family of origin anymore.
And yet, the family of that place is just one part of the family that is the wider church. By belonging to the wider church, I will always be connected to them. I will always feel like I am a part of the ones who first welcomed me into the family of faith and the ones who supported me on my faith journey. I will forever be grateful for that place, the congregation that taught me what it meant to be a member of the family of faith. That is what family does: loves, nurtures, and supports us, then sends us out into the world, always connected in some way no matter where we are. That is what it means to be part of the family of faith, the wider church, the Body of Christ—loved, nurtured, supported, connected, and yet sent into the world to share this love of Christ.
Pastor Jodi Hinrichs first learned to be part of the family of faith with the people of Dr. Martin Luther Church (ELCA) in Oconomowoc, WI. On the roster of the ELCA, Jodi is currently on-leave-from-call.
Image by: Maggie Amin and Wendie Mitchell
Used with permission