We didn’t live nearby any family when I was a kid—which might be why my parents and two of my siblings now live within 10 minutes of us! Spending time with our extended family required long road trips. And by long, I mean a great distance, as my parents would put all the kids in the van and drive through the night. 25 hours in car at a time? It’s a wonder we all still like each other enough to want to live close by! But that’s what we had to do to see our family and maximize the time with them. No wasting precious days with motel stays along the way!
One of my favorite things about visiting with grandparents and cousins and great-aunts and uncles and second cousins and so on is the chance to learn more about people who come from a background that is both like mine yet different. My second cousins and I, for example, are all children of a parent who spent their summers with their cousins, because THEY were children of siblings separated after their mother died. The importance of family, of spending time and energy to make sure you connect with family, is paramount for all of us. Yet, the rest of our lives and interests aren’t always so similar.
We also come from a family deeply rooted in faith—the Roman Catholic tradition in particular. Some of us are still practicing Catholics, others are rogue Presbyterians! Some are Christmas and Easter church attendees, others go several times a week. Others have left the church yet still value the stories and themes of compassion and justice. When we gather, we respect one another—not in ignoring any differences, but in listening to each other share what our faith journeys have been like and what we find valuable as adults.
The church is often compared to a family. For some of us, that might stir up images of dance parties and pancake breakfasts. For others, that comparison might bring forth memories of arguments and stressful family dinners.
When I think of the church as family, I don’t think about just my immediate family, nor my parents and siblings, or even first cousins. I think about all those second cousins—and now third cousins!—and how, though our grandparents—the brothers and sisters who first gathered their children together at a Minnesota lake in the summer—have all since gone, we still choose to gather. We gather and we care for one another and we extend hospitality to each other and compassion and understanding for one another. Every time I gather with this extended family, I give thanks for what God has created and helped keep connected.