The Last Homely House

I have once again been considering what my home is, what our homes are, to us and have come round to the phrase ‘home church’. This is my musings on that.

People use the phrase ‘home church’ for a reason. “Where is your home church?” they ask. Because the concept is that there is some place that you are accepted and known. That within faith there should be some community that functions as ‘home’. When we ask such a question we are not asking about physical location are we? When we ask such a question we are looking for markers of your family and culture. We ask so we can maybe check you have someone pastorally looking after you. We ask so we can know your background – there is a theological family to which your home church belongs and that tells us something about you. We are asking because it helps us figure out your ‘spiritual upbringing’.

The concept of a home church says something positive as well however about connection. It says that (in word at least) we think there should be a place of faith where one can grow, question, be wrong, have a tantrum, doubt, be yourself and still be loved. For we know in our bones that a home is not physical location, a home is place that you age, you grow, you change and you are still safe. And we know how devastating it is when our home is not that. We know how damaging it is to the growth of a child when they are bullied or silenced, punished for being curious or condemned for being simply themselves.

Phill and I talked about church as a home and a house and came up with our beginning phrase ‘A House of Questions’. We want to find a way to bring tools to help people have safety when they need to think, question, discuss, disagree. And we don’t know what that will look like…that’s the point of the bursary! If faith communities of any sort are a spiritual home then we need to foster an environment of safety, of homeliness.

I’m a fan of fantasy literature and was brought up on Tolkien by my mum (got my Smaug tattoo to prove it.) In middle earth there is a beautiful place called Rivendell and in Rivendell is the dwelling of Elrond, called the ‘Last Homely House’. It is a refuge and a home, the last stop for those heading towards the mountains. The image of it stays in my mind because it isn’t merely a nice house. The last homely house is the place that one is secreted away for a while before a long and hard journey begins. It is a place one can be scared and a place where one can seek wisdom about the journey ahead. It is a place that demands little but give much – knowing that outside is where the battle is raging. It is a place of equipping for future tasks, and when you return to it from the mountains it is the ‘first homely house’ that one seeks for help.

Because of the books resonance in my early years the image of a ‘homely house’ brings feelings of hope, safety, and place where I could find my feet before setting out. Its not about comfort in the sense of not being challenged, for no preparation can be without challenges and choices; but it is the space to be real about what is ahead and what is important.

How then can church be home without being honest? How can it be challenging while still being safe? How can it deal with the biggest and deepest of issues while still being our shelter?

So that’s where my thinking about this is starting – what tools do we need to be able to foster the best conversations about the most difficult or most intriguing things?

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