March 27, 2017

The Church Doesn’t Act *Like* a Family

I’m back home preparing for my father’s funeral at the end of this week, and I’ve learned quite a bit being on the receiving end of pastoral care from a local church.

My dad, Dale Bentrup, is a lifelong Lutheran and a stalwart at the two churches he’s attended in my lifetime. His pastor, a dear friend of mine, has been a source of great comfort for my mom and family. And the outpouring of love and support from parishioners has taught me more about the role of the church than three years in seminary ever could.

Of all the word pictures and metaphors used to describe the church, one has always stuck with me: family. But as I’ve thought about it some this past week, I’ve decided that “family” isn’t a very good metaphor for the church.

Metaphors describe what something is like. The church is like or similar to a light, flock, or a building. But family is not metaphorical; it is a literal description of what the church is.

The church is not like family; it is family.

In baptism, we are received into the household of God. In my view, we are literally brothers and sisters in Christ. Family is the primary way the early church identified themselves, and it is how I have identified the church since my dad’s diagnosis.

My parents’ church isn’t huge. It isn’t fancy. But it is faithful. It is family. I’ve seen that as I’ve offered pastoral care in my own parish, as we’ve walked with folks in the midst of life’s dark shadows. Now I am seeing from the other side of the equation.

As my mom, sisters, and I went to church for the first time since my father’s death this past Sunday, I was overcome with emotion. Yet, in the midst of all of it, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. It wasn’t my own parish, but it was still home. It was my parents’ church, and by extension mine as well.

And as I hugged the countless strangers (to me) who offered their sympathies, I thanked one for the prayers, support, and love (and food!) they have shown my father, my mother, and now us.

Her response was simple. “This is what we do. We’re family.”

What makes your church a family?