To what place or people are you necessary, truly known, and committed to being a part of? For Briana Meade it is church. In this three-post series she writes “love letters to the church” touching on authenticity, community, and hope. 

This Part 2 of a three part series: Love Letters to the Church from a Millennial. Access the rest of the series here:

Being Needed | Being Known | Being Committed


 

 

Ben, Tim, and David were sitting on our couch in our 900-square-foot apartment, talking and dissolving into fits of laughter. It was a college reunion of sorts. There was some raucous joking, ribbing, and friendly roughhousing; and yet, everyone seemed somber as well, perhaps muted. We’re a few years older now, and adult life has altered some of these boys from adolescents who tossed water balloons off campus roofs to square-chinned, suited men who run creative meetings and glasses-wearing social workers.

 

Ben revealed his passion for helping children in precarious, unsafe situations. Despite his relative success, he was discouraged in his work as a YMCA interventionist. Many of the kids were difficult to reach and love, but he kept trying. Tim loved his job in grass-roots politics but hated what, ostensibly, was the pretentiousness and unfriendliness of D.C. He told us that, out on the town, most girls only wanted to know what his title was. “They don’t want to know anything about me but what I do and how much I make,” he lamented.

 

Each one of us confessed to feeling lonely at times. As a young, stay-at-home mom I commiserated; my husband, Chris, is a twenty-something father, also removed from men his age.

 

And yet, as far as I know, none of these friends of ours regularly attend church. Each one of them acknowledged, sitting there in that circle, that they hadn’t “felt” this kind of community in a long time, and I thought, but what about church? Where is the church in this for us?

 

In John 21, Jesus appears post-resurrection to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee, early in the morning, after the disciples have failed to catch any fish. He calls out to them from the shoreline, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” The disciple’s reply with what I imagine is a stressed-out, aggravated response in the negative as they are forced to reassess their night’s poor work. Then Jesus disseminates instructions, to the effect that the disciples throw their nets over on the right side of the boat and catch a large haul. As soon as John realizes Jesus is the man on the shore, Peter jumps out of the boat and the other disciples follow. On the lakeside, the disciples partake in Jesus’ preparation of a meal. A feast of both fish and bread.

 

Not only does Jesus pause to break bread with them on that early-morning shoreline, but he also reinstates Peter among the disciples through his gentle probing and loving words. It was a morning of community, of hope, and of being known.

 

This was a key time for the disciples. A time when they had numerous questions about Jesus and a probable time of discouragement, both in returning to their past livelihoods (and not catching any fish!) and also in wondering where to go next. There is Jesus, reappearing, providing a meal for them, choosing to spend his time doing something so familiar—so human and communal and mundane.

 

What enlivened me most about this story, though, is the act of Peter jumping out of the boat. What kind of person do we jump out of a boat for, into the cold water, after we’ve committed the offense of denying them? What kind of person makes you care with such urgency? The answer I think, is the person who is the ultimate Welcomer, the kind of person who has formed the foundation of who we are. That we cannot wait—even amid our anxiety over our foibles and mistakes—to jump out into the water again and hear him say our names is a testament. That kind of person.

 

I’ve realized, through fits and half-starts and half-promises, that I’ve finally come home to church as a millennial. I’m looking for that community where the word Welcome is common and where the fire of community, formed from those early encounters in Acts, continues to burn. It exists, it is real, and it is possible, but many millennials have not arrived here. As evidenced by these once-Christian-college-students now drifting away from church circles, community is hard to find. And my own journey has been one of half-hearted attempt rather than of joyous homecoming.

 

When I was contemplating writing this series on church, I considered the dry representations the word church sometimes recalls: dusty, hard-back pews, long sermons with little real-life application, and stiff awkward handshakes among strangers. As I thought of these familiar depictions, I had an epiphany. I realized that these didn’t apply at all to my current experiences of church. In fact, as I thought about church, I remembered warm hugs from my friend Jacqueline. I thought of toddlers in the hallway I corralled like my own, and my friend Gretchen’s New England life hacks for all manner of domestic problems. I recollected the motherly attention that has made me feel so much less alone in the arms of older women with whom I would otherwise not have anything in common, and I thought of the lasagna that was delivered to my door by strangers before I was even a member, after giving birth in a new town.

 

I’ve held almost every child in our church; I’ve constructed church with my bare hands, my fingernails brushing the sticky floors of our makeshift enterprise. Could it be that I am in love with church? Perhaps, but that love has most come out of a feeling of being welcomed and learning how to be the welcomer as I hear the stories of Jesus and his provision and constant bringing of people near. Welcome. That’s the word I’m using and that’s the word that has shaken me out of my complacency in my twenties.

 

“They don’t want to know anything about me…” Tim had said about acquaintances in standard twenty-something venues. And I thought, but I know a place where we are struggling to construct a community, and a place of Welcome, despite our inevitable shortcomings. The group of us there, sitting on the couch, wanted to know him. I know that Jesus, again and again, proves his interest and cares enough to return for a meal with those on whom he left a deep, penetrable mark.

 

As we sat there with Tim in our apartment, welcoming him into our circle to huddle together, drinking and eating like the New Testament church in Acts, I felt a familiar longing to continue to construct church within the humble community we’ve found. As Christians, we remember a long-past fireside reunion, and the ultimate welcoming touch of the one who knows exactly what we need and who we are; the one to whom we can run with outstretched arms like a child: silly and frantic and needy and welcomed.


 

 

This Part 2 of a three part series: Love Letters to the Church from a Millennial. Access the rest of the series here:

Being Needed | Being Known | Being Committed