September 2, 2013
Denise, my fiancé (we got engaged a little over a week ago) is out of town for a few days at a retreat. Left to my own devices, I am prone to eating too much cereal and watching too much television. Fortunately, she left me some groceries and recipes, and thanks in part to her encouragement, I’ve gotten into the habit of going to the gym.
This kind of accountability grows not out of guilt but out of love. I know that someone loves me, and if I don’t take care of myself, if I’m unhappy and unhealthy, it will hurt her. Importantly, these and other changes in my behavior are changes I wanted as well, I just needed a little help getting there.
Denise and I met in church, at St. Lydia’s, and while most relationships formed in church don’t end up in marriage, I think that the church can and often does foster strong relationships that help us to grow and change for the better. This happens, I think, by creating an atmosphere of honesty, openness, and forgiveness.
St. Lydia’s is a small church, and we share a meal every Sunday (and now Monday) evening. There’s lots of time to talk to each other one on one, and time during the sermon to share our own stories. Many strong relationships form from this intimate and inviting atmosphere. We’ve helped each other through difficult personal and family situations, through unemployment and transitions.
Helping these relationships form and grow may look different in other, more traditional churches. Perhaps it means creating and encouraging small groups or it might require priests and church leaders modeling openness and honesty. Priests must also keep in mind boundaries and keeping church a safe place, of course. Whatever it looks like in your community, the church can and should foster relationships that make us better and make us want to be better, not because we are guilty or ashamed, but because we are loved.
What does this look like in your community?