During my freshman year in college, my high school youth director asked me to be a sponsor on a junior high youth retreat. Because it looked to me like the sponsors in my youth group always had WAY more fun than the kids, I jumped at the chance.
When we got to the camp—can’t remember which one—all the junior high girls were in one big room, while the other female sponsor and I bunked in a smaller adjacent room. I remember thinking, “This is so cool! I’m no longer a KID IN THE BIG ROOM!” I didn’t know the other sponsor well except that she was older than me—8 years older. I knew she was married and a schoolteacher. I also knew that she had graduated from the same college in which I was enrolled. As we got settled in our room, we chatted, a little awkwardly, about the upcoming weekend.
At one point I looked over and she pulled a bath robe out of her suitcase that was identical to the one I had brought with me. I got mine out and said, “Look! Our robes are exactly alike!” We laughed and the more we talked, the more we realized we had tons in common—not just bath robes. We connected even though we were at very different life stages.
That retreat was 46 years ago and to this day, we are close friends. We still laugh when we talk about our identical bathrobes. Even though there were long periods when we didn’t live in the same place and often went months without talking on the phone, we have stayed connected. We have been together through high times and low times and all times in between. We’ve talked about everything—religion, clothes, politics, shoes, relationships, hair—you name it. Over the years, we really have become more like sisters. I can honestly say that this relationship—so unlikely—has been one of the deepest, most formative bonds of my life.
A while back, I came upon a quote that I read it in an amazing book called Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. The author says, “We need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people.” It occurs to me that if I had stayed within my “category” at church, I would never have met my friend. If I had stayed with the people in my age and stage, I would never have been a mentor to the junior high girls on that retreat AND I would never have been mentored by my lifelong, “bathrobe” friend.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being with women who are just like me. I love talking with women who are going through the same things that I am, facing the same life challenges that I am facing. I love being with baby boomer women and men because we share so much in common. There’s nothing wrong with categories. However, I know that my life—and my faith—is enriched immeasurably when I take the time and make the effort (it does take time and effort) to build relationships with all kinds of people—all ages, all stages, all sizes and all shapes of people.
And, so, there are questions going through my mind today. Have we built a church based on categories? What is the upside of a church built around categories? What is the downside? What does a church built around people look like? How do we rethink and reshape church around people? So many questions . . .