“But mama, how can we sell our church? Where will we go on Sunday-church-days? Can I still wear my click-clack shoes?”

The lispy question hung in the air as we drove home from the last town hall in a series of tough discussions about the future of our church. Her “Sunday-church-day” phrasing is a familiar term, an Ingrid-ism, and one that holds all the meaning of church to a four-year-old.

A beautiful building with bright toys and happy music.

The landmarks along the way, she calls them each week as we drive across town – a windmill, “Chucker Cheese,” the fire station, her favorite park.

A place where she learns about Jesus.

The cozy nursing room where we snuggled and rocked.

A multi-generational group of people who have loved her for her whole life.

The one place she’s allowed to wear her impractical, likely inappropriate “click-clack” shoes (tiny heels).

Our haven of a church has been a safe, nurturing, blessing of a place for our family for over 13 years. All three of our youngest children were dedicated in the sanctuary, and our oldest was baptized in the front.

We walked in the doors for the first time determined to “warm a pew” after many traumatic church experiences. That plan lasted about five minutes.

The whole congregation is, as I lovingly called us in a town hall this spring, an Island of Misfit Toys. More recovering/retired ministers than laity, and most still licking wounds from the last church “family,” we meld together and find spaces for each to use whatever quirky thing God gave us to serve.

We’re raising a generation of peculiar little people who know their worth and feel supported in their endeavors. Sometimes hurt people hurt people, but I’ve witnessed a group of believers healing and sharing that gift with others who need it.

My heart raced watching our oldest ascend the stairs to the youth group section of the education wing for the first time. Middle school is a tender time.

Tweenage years are some of the most vulnerable times, and I experienced and survived a predator during mine. Knowing we raised a kid with a voice and settled her in a church that would listen to it gave me just the peace I needed to let her leave the felt boards and pipe cleaners of childhood faith.

She is safe.

We are safe.

Through life changes, staff changes, funerals and baby showers, our church has been a home.

And so we remember that a church is not a building. It is not the manicured lawn or playground. Not the darkened sanctuary in candlelight on Christmas Eve, or the crescendoed echo of joy on Easter Sunday.

The church is:

  • wise voices speaking truth to power, even when it costs us friends in the pews.
  • gentle hands knitting prayer shawls for heavy-burdened shoulders.
  • smiling Sunday school teachers who love our children, yes even that one.
  • tearful prayers and meal trains.
  • tight hugs and “click-clack shoes” running into a group of people who will still love her and walk with us along the path of raising her in faith, no matter where we land.

We’re not alone. Many congregations are making big changes as we all learn to be church to an ever-changing world. Our strength lies beyond this transaction.

May we hold tight to what truly matters, release what needs to fall away, and press on together.

In Good Faith.

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