First Published September 12, 2014, on Leah's former blog, "Being in Berkeley.
Last Sunday we had a baby. No, you didn't miss something on Facebook. I haven't been artificially thinning out my body via Photoshop for the last seven months or anything. This was the birth of our baby church; a dream, now come to reality, that I've been nurturing and growing internally for thirteen years. That's a long gestation. And now, with one Sunday afternoon, the hypothetical has become the real. A new little faith community now exists in Berkeley, California.
So how does it feel? What was it like? After thirteen years it's hard not to imagine the moment your dream crosses the line into reality in non-idealized terms. It's kind of like being pregnant for the first time and imagining that the moment your baby is born may be the most significant moment of your life. Perhaps some small part of you even half-way expects that the heavens will open, you will hear the angels sing and you will be transformed into Mother, a fount of nurturing and wisdom. Kindness and patience will flow from you and you will bask in the warm glow of your bond with your newfound progeny.
But anyone who's had a baby knows it doesn't quite work like that. If you're lucky, you may indeed sense a bit of the holy the moment that child is hoisted toward you for the first time. You will probably cry tears of joy and wonder. And then they may blend with tears of pain as the reality of what your body has just gone through starts to be absorbed. There will be blood. There may be medical professionals whisking your little treasure away to suck things out of the little being's lungs or to monitor the baby's breathing more closely. You will probably feel a mixture of gratitude, terror, and total, utter exhaustion.
And once you and your baby have been adequately cleaned up and cleared by the many staff who've now poked and prodded the most intimate parts of both of you, you finally have your moment of peace. And there is peace. There are some glorious moments as the little creature nuzzles into you and you can smell heaven on her head. There are also some awkward ones. How do you actually hold this thing? How do you get his tiny mouth in the right place to feed him? After a day of this they're telling you you're ready to take the little one home and you and your partner look at each other with a flash of terror. They think we can actually keep this thing alive? We have no idea what we're doing here.
So one week in, I have a sense that starting a church for me is something like that experience. Way less blood, thank goodness. Physically, not nearly as taxing. (By now I've had three babies au natural, so my tolerance for physical stress is pretty high.) There is a mix of gratitude, and wonder that this thing is no longer a pipe-dream but a reality. We feel a sort of disbelief that Jason and I have come here for such a time as this, when these other seven adults and their kids have also landed in the same area, all of us drawn from across the country to this place at this time, and all looking for a similar expression of spiritual community.
But there's also a bit of awkwardness. No one has met one another before. We haven't done "church" like this before, so it doesn't yet feel natural. The toddlers are restless. One of them really doesn't like my guitar. Junia, my four-year-old, is quarantined to our bedroom vomiting. Every time Jason or I check on her, there's more to clean up. I feel distracted, a bit insecure, and afraid we're going to infect the whole crew our first week. Brilliant start.
But amidst the awkwardness, the vomiting, and the parents having to wander in and out to help the little ones, I see something else. Something real taking place. I see the sweet moments of discovery people are having as they chat over dinner or as their kids play on the floor and make a genuine connection. I feel something real taking place as we sing together, lifting our voices in unison, making the music of worship as a group. And when I pray and invite folks to listen to the Holy Spirit and share what they sense, people do. They start to share the ways God is already speaking to them about what is happening in our midst. They pray that those things will become realities. And in that moment I have a sense that just for a half a moment, the veil has been lifted. There's sacred amongst the mundane.
In Jesus' birth story, there are a lot of details left out. And our Christmas cards and pageants idealize the tale. Mary is pristine. So are the animals and the hay. You know that in reality that nativity scene had to be a disgusting mess. I try to imagine it from Mary's point of view. Blood and dung, searing pain, and that damn sheep who won't stop bleating in her ear. Why won't Jesus latch on? And there's also awe. God held in her arms. Looking face to face with her Messiah, a tiny helpless baby. Shepherds falling at her feet with tales of angel choirs celebrating her baby's birth.
Doesn't that scene more truthfully communicate the miracle of the Gospel? Amidst the dung and the blood, God comes. Amidst homelessness and livestock, God comes. Amidst the pain and terror of childbirth, God comes. Amidst the horrific headlines on the daily news, God comes. Amidst our theological disagreements, God comes. Amidst the awkwardness and the restless toddlers and the vomiting child, God comes.
And this, it seems, is what it's like to start a church.