Monday, August 1, 2011

Porch Life

Part of what defines a family is how comfortable the members are around each other. We've all been to those family gatherings in which some members maintain a cordial "truce," but the warm reception was a little much to ask. Visit any home and you'll immediately take notice of how those that live there relate together. Do the spouses seem agreeable and supportive of one another? Do the children play nice and respect the grown ups? It doesn't take long to gauge the life of the household by observing how the residents get along, if they enjoy each others' company or if they like to hang out together for no particular reason.

So is it with a family; so it is with a church. There are many indicators that can help one detect the health of a church. How many attend? What do they give? How many are sent out from there to Christian ministry? Do they value symbols and sacraments in worship? There are a wide variety of factors that can demonstrate that this is a healthy local body of Christ, following the Lord and growing into a mature expression of his Church. Among the telltale signs that a church is maturing into something honoring the Lord is how comfortable it's members are with each other, and how readily they welcome newcomers into that comfort zone. This exercise of a healthy church can be summed up in the technical term: "hanging out."

It's valid question to ask whether a church's members like to "hang out" together, having nothing particularly special to do than to simply enjoy each others' company. A church body is often called a "family," or a "home church." If the "home" analogy is to be adequately explored, then someone must ask, "Where is the living room?" What space is provided by the church wherein the "family" members can simply "hang" together? What facilitates their "hang out?" When can it occur?

Many churches are so heavily programmatized that they cannot imagine supplying space and time for its members to do absolutely nothing but sit and relate together. I worked for a "mega-church" before, where its nearly 4,000 members and multiple pastoral staff exited the building all within minutes of the Sunday service being dismissed. All that was left within half an hour of the closing song was the janitorial staff (which included me). The mass exodus was so thorough, that when people showed up late for church, just missing the service by twenty minutes, looking for someone to pray with them, all they found was us janitors there to minister to them. The instinct to "hang together" was not cultivated in that church, though countless sermons about "developing a sense of community" were preached with passion.

Since then I've seen churches not only preach about "community," but also facilitate it by offering space for experiencing that "common life" together. In some places this can be a "fellowship hall," but my experience has been that something unique is offered by an expansive porch or courtyard. This could be due to the fact that the Anglican churches I've attended have members that share an appreciation for good tobacco. Smoking a pipe or a fine cigar appears to facilitate "hanging out" together better than many other methods can. Obviously since smoking isn't going to occur indoors, a church porch is necessary for it. For this reason the porch is needed to facilitate Pipe Club for the church as well. Now the porch life at Church of the Holy Trinity was legendary for being a "hang out" place for the church family members. Not only did Pipe Club happen there the last Friday night of each month, but Sunday afternoon found that porch populated with people in no hurry to go anywhere. Many of the men smoked while the women related together near the playground where children continued to play. The "common life" of the church was plainly evident. I often commented regarding the men that didn't race home to watch the game: "Of course they're all football fans... they're just bigger fans of each other."

St. Matthias Anglican Church
has a porch area too (pictured above). It's well suited to facilitating their Pipe Club on the second Friday night of each month, but has gone under utilized on Sunday after the Holy Communion service. While every church differs in culture and practice, "The Porch," as a function of a church's common life together seems almost required across multiple congregations. While I didn't want to assume that what works at one church would be well received at another, Holy Trinity and St. Matthias share many common elements. Among those are their emphasis on the natural affinity that Christians should have for one another drinking deeply from Celtic Christianity. Since this "brand" of Christian community has been something emphasized by our Bishop, it stands to reason that congregations where our Bishop's presence has been felt would have this emphasis too. Thus "the porch" is a fitting demonstration of how our Bishop's influence has taken root.

In light of this, it seemed only right that the porch at the Cathedral of Saint Matthias would find us, last Sunday, enjoying a pipe or our cigars following the service. It was very natural to rest in that shade, in no hurry to exit to our various homes. As a added benefit, some even visited and inquired about the church, stopping by specifically because they saw us sitting outside. The Porch did its work on a number of levels, even acting as an attractant because of our "common life" being enjoyed together. I suspect that this "porch life" will continue to reap untold benefits, and I look forward to all of them.

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