As we were constructing our new church facility a few years ago, a member of our building committee sent me a picture of what the parking lot could look like. There were two parking spaces side by side, both spaces with their own sign. The sign over the spot on the left said “Reserved for the Pastor.” The spot on the right said, “Reserved for the Pastor’s Wife.” I can only imagine which one was closer to the door.
I politely declined the joking suggestion that we do the same, thinking that the line between church and family life was already hopelessly confused. (Not that that’s all a bad thing. I think the point of church is that Jesus wants some of what we pick up at church to follow us home — or to work.) However, now I’m not so sure that the proposed parking lot arrangement would have been a bad idea. My wife is also a seminary-trained and ordained pastor, and probably a better one than me. When I came to Dalton one of my references told a church member, “You hired the wrong one.”
Currently my wife exercises her theological imagination by caring for our children full-time, which means she has a different — and probably more grounded — perspective on the life of faith. She saw the blue bow on Sunday and knew exactly what it meant. (This column, then, is a hat-tip to her.)
When our second daughter was born a couple of years ago we came home to a mailbox some thoughtful church family had decorated with pink balloons and a pink bow. On the way home we drove by the church, which had a pink bow on it, too. I said they must have been confused about where we lived. But really what we got to experience was the joy that comes from being a part of a community. C.S. Lewis said that a friend halves our sorrow and doubles our joy. I take this to mean that a church can chop sorrow into invisible pieces and share joy like loaves and fishes.
As another baby was born in the church we decided to do it again. So we bought a blue bow and put it on the railing leading into the church. Now every time the bow appears there is great promise and expectation. A child is born to new parents. The joy is shared with all of us. If you happened by the church in the past week ago, you may have wondered about the blue bow. It means we’re still celebrating.
Most pastors I know use some caution in comparing a congregation with family. People often have difficult experiences with family and a church can be a refuge from those struggles. Some of the words of Jesus, too, can discomfit our high opinion of family. (See: Matthew 10:34-39.)
But Scripture has a way of using our emotional closeness and intimacy of families as a way of understanding our relationship with God. Jesus, of course, describes his relationship with God in terms of father and son (Matthew 11:27). In Luke, Jesus says that God’s love is like the open arms of a father welcoming home a prodigal son (Luke 15:32). Paul describes the relationship of Jesus and the church as marriage (Ephesians 5:32). Isaiah compares the love of God to a new mother: “can a mother forget her nursing child?” (Isaiah 49:15).
I take this to mean that the families we have and the churches we join have something to do with this love of God that pervades all of our relationships, even if they only reflect such divine love like a dim mirror. This is why the whole church gets excited for the new baby. This is also why the whole church promises to love and care for each new child in his or her baptism. Through baptism we are incorporated into a larger body that has a lot in common with a family. There are new cousins to grow up with, new aunts and uncles and grandparents to invest in relationships with and love and care for a child we offer to God’s grace.
That might be the whole point of it anyway. God takes what is important to us and stretches it beyond our imagination. We experience (hopefully) joy, love, care, support, relationship with our family. God shows us that our family is much bigger than we realize. That’s what the blue bow means.
Will Scott is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton. His column appears the fourth Friday of the month.