Reflection: Redefining ‘Home’ and ‘Family’
By Gizelle Guyette*
Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
-Robert Frost, “Death of the Hired Man”
St. John’s in the Mountains, sanctuary, empty, its downstairs rowed with cots in its dual identity as warming shelter this past winter, looks quite a different place in the middle of the night. Denuded of its Sunday purpose, it’s still a picturesque, cleanly- built little beacon at the crossroads in the bitter January gloom at 3:00 A.M. Interlacing rafters and honey-sheened hardwood floors, bathed in low light, hint at the sacred in that somnolent pre-dawn hush.
As someone letting go of a house and the life it contained while considering what will come next, I’ve become keenly aware of place: of the architecture of dwellings, be they family homes, houses of worship or other destinations for lives seeking something beyond mere survival: safety, purpose and the certainty of belonging. When we think of home, most of us picture four walls, a floor to stand on and a roof above our heads. Those of us in transition strive to redefine the word, separating it from a particular structure and plot of ground as our journeys take us elsewhere. Still others, native- born or newcomers struggling for footing in harsh conditions, must leave what little security they knew and start again, seeking shelter, at the mercy of the unknown. In one way or another, most of us have been, are or will be strangers in a strange land. May we never forget it.
Home must be a term whose definition extends beyond physical architecture.
Home must be a term whose definition extends beyond physical architecture. As the quoted Frost poem describes, home is where they know you; where they have to take you in. In the context of a faith community, this goes beyond Sunday. It goes further than performing good works, raising money and other acts of benevolence. It means relationship. When newcomers enter the church, are they coolly sized up, labelled, categorized as ” our sort” or not, and either treated with polite reserve once a week, appraised for their possible skills or needs…or are they welcomed as friends, as family? Do we get to know them? To care about them beyond their potential as an asset? Do we let them get past our front door?
As the world becomes both bigger and smaller; as walls are built and destroyed and roofs blown off in gale-force winds; as worldwide church numbers dwindle and what we thought we knew can be shattered in an instant, I think we need to redefine home and family. We need to be there for each other. We need to guide each other. An hour once a week; a seasonal charitable gesture; a fundraiser for a cause; a handshake at the passing of the peace: these make a good starting point, a foundation, but more is needed. An architectural structure is the beginning. Lives lived close to one another, an intentional community giving it purpose, are what makes a church a spiritual home. My prayer for the future of St. John’s is that it fulfills its purpose as more than a church. May it be home. And when people come here, may we take them in.
*Gizelle Guyette is a parishioner at St. John’s in the Mountains, Stowe, Vermont.