As I've been thinking about my "loneliness", I've been kind of wondering if seeing the street church family as a kind of "substitute family" in place of my family (as my parents passed away, kids flew our nest; and former "church family" losses as that group closed down, and co-worker and student losses from leaving my teaching job, and such) ... well, I've been wondering if the frequent "losses" from the street church family are also part of my problem.
Our street church gathering is not made up of what you might call a "stable population." Especially when it comes to those who have come for the breakfasts and clothing and conversations - and have met Jesus. Because it seems that it doesn't take long before they move on.
Some experience transformed lives, and return to families, or move to get work, or whatever. And their "street pastor" actually encourages them to move on, for a time at least, into a gathering of more mature believers, where they are away from the street environment and crowd.
Others - and you'd be surprised at how often this happens - soon after really encountering Jesus, go to be with Him. It seems like they have been just barely "holding on" looking for the answer to their life's problems - and when they find it, they're happy to let go - and go home. Or else Father has been keeping breath in them until they come to Jesus - and then He takes them home because He knows it is where they need to be. Now.
Of course sometimes they come back, when they've gotten into a strong relationship with Jesus, and help out those on the streets. That's awesome, because they really understand.
I keep thinking that I need more time with Your people. I mean, this "rest" time mostly with You (and Your people on-line to some degree) has been awesome. But You really have created us for community. In Your image. So yes, I'm lonely for Your family (and my personal family too...)
Maybe it's because I've been "on the sidelines" lately, and am just generally lonely.
But maybe I'm going through some kind of "withdrawls" from the "comforts" of traditional church. I mean, at least at traditional church, you can pretty well guarantee you're going to see (if briefly, and mostly looking at the back of their heads) your "church family" for at least an hour or two every Sunday. And if you're the "getting involved" type, there are Life Groups and Bible Studies and Teen Nights and Kids' Klubs and Womens Ministries and Mens Ministries and special groups for young adults and middle adults and senior adults and married adults and single adults and so on and so forth. And maybe even Sunday School classes for every taste and interest and age group, if your church is big enough. Maybe Your church even has it's own school attached. So you can find a little group that suits your age and taste and entertainment style, and every week get together for a more-or-less-cozy time together, starting and ending precisely on time, and knowing exactly what to expect in curriculum and style. Cozy. Friendly but not too friendly. Safe. Predictable. Dependable getting-together times.
(Not very much like the sometimes-craziness and other-times-real-closeness of personal - real - family. But still.)
I really loved gathering with the street church family back in the beginning. Sunday morning breakfast gatherings of course (we still have those). And then we started having week-day-morning coffee gatherings (when the traditional churches in town wanted to get involved, and were full of great ideas of things we could do ... and initially even lent us some indoor space ... but as it turned out, didn't really get involved when it didn't fit into the way they do things). So our only "regular gathering" time is back to Sunday morning breakfast gatherings.
And of course, I used to live only a couple blocks from the heart of downtown, and I walked through downtown every day, and met up with the family in the square and on park benches and in back alleys and by the beach. But now I live a 45 minute walk away, and my health hasn't been so great, so I can't get there all the time. And they used to come to my house and we'd sit and have coffee and meals and gathering with You, too. But my home now is a long walk for them too.
Oh yes. And back then, we seemed to do a lot more sit-down-together (usually outside on the grass under the trees, or huddled around an old kerosene heater in the snow ... and sometimes indoors when it worked out) and talk together about the Lord in our lives. And read Scripture. And pray together as a group. But now it's mostly a coupl of individuals, or groups of 3 or 4, talking for a few minutes and then moving on. And there's value there. But I really do miss the group togetherness. And digging into Scripture. (We still pray together quite a bit).
(We never have had much music. Sometimes I miss that).
And of course, meeting together most days just on the street. Helping each other out. Sharing.
Anyway, I was thinking the other day about how I'd like to find a little gathering of Your people - not a rah-rah group with formal services and worship teams and preacher and stuff, but still, a little group to gather with. In homes or coffee shops or wherever.
I was even thinking how I wish church buildings (this town has a lot of them) were open and one could go in anytime. A kind of "chapel" space to just go in, get out of the cold, sit quietly, kneel at the altar, even talk and sing and pray together. Anytime. Informally.
Sometimes I remember a couple little churches of my past, where you could do that. I remember weekday "morning prayer" (matins) and "evening prayer" and kneeling rails (cushioned!). Places of quiet, focused "retreat" - yet not feeling alone. A real sense that You were there. With a few of Your people. Together. Family. Sometimes I think of that kind of longingly. Maybe I'm just being nostalgic. Maybe.
Okay, this is something I really do miss. Spending time in the scriptures and praying together. The thing is, at our street church gatherings, we do have some discussion and teaching. We share what God is doing in our lives. We answer the many questions from people for whom the Jesus Way is so new. We really do help each other, and that is awesome.
But... I miss really "getting into" scripture. A lot of people don't read much, if at all. A lot of people are suffering from illnesses and stuff that make "study" difficult. Or their lives are so focused on just surviving, that "study" is simply outside their current situation. And when they maybe start to get to the stage where they might want to "dig in," that's the time they move on with Jesus into new situations and places in life.
So I guess maybe I'm wishing to be part of a gathering of people who want to dig a bit deeper.
I'm wondering ... if all us believers, all over this town, are part of "the church at Penticton" shouldn't we be able to maybe meet with people from more than one local gathering? Even freely move among our brothers and sisters as God gives us opportunity? Why is that such a scary thought to so many "churches"?
(Maybe I'm just the problem. Maybe it's "just me.")