I'm back at Middle Places today, with a reminder that no matter where you've been or where you're at, you have an invitation to belonging.
After we’d attended our church for a few months, my husband and I decided to become members. We took the required class, wrote statements of faith and attended a special lunch with the pastors. The final step was to stand and be affirmed by the congregation on a Sunday morning.
I had joined churches in the past, like the congregation I worshipped with in college and the church plant I served in during my first job in ministry, so my expectations for our part for the service that morning weren’t to do more than to stand and wave to those around us.
On membership Sunday, the pastor read our names aloud, inviting us to come forward along with the other candidates for membership. After explaining the process to the congregation, she asked us to kneel. Taking a small jar of oil, the pastor knelt in front of me, her hand gently anointing my forehead as she said softly:
You belong to Christ. And because you belong to Christ, you belong to us and we belong to you.
She smiled into my eyes as they filled with tears. What a precious gift, to be welcomed so explicitly, to be told that this place, these people were now a home to us.
I listened as she went down the line, kneeling in front of the other new members.
How often I’ve longed to hear these words. There have been seasons – junior high school, my first job, moving across country – where it felt like there was nowhere to call home. The deep desire for belonging is an ache as real as hunger or fatigue.
Connection with others is more than a want, it’s a need that when left unmet can lead to heartache and depression.
Isaiah 43:1 gives us this promise:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.” (ESV)
We are not alone, left to find our way through life’s journey. We belong to God. He lovingly redeems us and calls us by name. And, just like our pastor so beautifully spoke over us in front of the congregation, because we belong to God, we belong to each other, invited to participate in real community where we can be known and loved.
As I looked out into the church that day, I didn’t know how true those words would become. I hadn’t yet seen how these people would come along side us – through words of encouragement as we struggled as newlyweds, in shared grief after we lost our first child in a miscarriage, with joy and homemade meals after we brought home our sons. God loved us through their kindness, generosity and tuna casseroles.
He loves you too. He has redeemed you and called you by name. You are not alone. The church is God’s family and you are a part. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been or if you’re waiting to jump in to a new community, know this – we belong to Christ and we belong to each other. There’s a place for you here.