By Becky De Oliveira — I have been involved in a number of Seventh-day Adventist congregations over the course of my life. Three stand out as particularly good—from my point of view. In trying to determine what I envision for the church of the future—the theme of this issue of Mountain Views—I’ve tried to consider what qualities those congregations had that made them good. I’m not naming names, but rather giving loose geographic locations and descriptions that might enable the careful observer to identify the congregation in question.
Nothing about this church initially recommended it. On my first visit, I considered it deeply weird. Located not far—but far enough—from London, in a ramshackle town, the building was junky. Many of the women wore hats. A few insisted on lace head coverings that looked like doilies when they prayed or stood up on the platform. The hymns were traditionally somber and accompanied by an anemic organ. But of the two churches and church plant my husband and I attended—he as an intern pastor partly responsible for their flourishing—this church was by far my favorite. Why? There was a great community of people who often spent time together. We’d gather at homes after church or during the week. One youngish couple often invited a homeless person to join us. We were a multicultural group made up of people native to Britain of all races, as well as those from various European nations and those originating in the West Indies or African. There was even the one American—me. One night a group of us were returning to one member’s home just as a burglar dashed off into the dark and we discovered the front panel to his door had been broken and things were missing from his house. We stood around while he phoned the police, comforting him, being there. When I hosted American Thanksgiving, the people from this church made up the bulk of the guest list.
This church had a reputation as a difficult place for a pastor, so naturally we ended up there just two months before our oldest son, now almost 22, was born. At first, predictably, I hated it. So many fights about flowers and carpet tiles and paint swatches and music style. But again—community. By the time we moved, we had two small children, and this church was a perfect environment. There were lots of young families, and, best of all, after church was over everyone gathered in a large multi-use hall for drinks and biscuits (cookies). All the kids ran around while the adults chatted. We took church trips to the beach, to a large nearby garden, to a forest. We were friends.
After sitting with friends one afternoon in Michigan and confessing that we had ceased to enjoy going to the huge local church in our area (too crowded to find a seat, few opportunities for interaction), we decided to start a new church service for all the people who were like us. Who knew how many there would be? It turned out to be hundreds, and our weekly service was soon packed—again, families with teenagers and kids—often families that had stopped attending anywhere else. We started serving an informal breakfast and the teenagers and young adults piled their plates high with whatever was on offer. At first, no one was even in charge of breakfast. People brought random offerings, as they might to a potluck, and the table was a delightful hodge-podge of homemade banana bread, boxes of chocolate covered Hostess donuts, string cheese, tiny orange juice bottles, granola bars—anything anyone wanted to contribute. We spilled outside onto the patio when the weather was good to talk after church was over. When it was cold, we made use of the large hallways, both upstairs and downstairs. When members were sick, the community banded around them, delivering meals, offering gifts, phone calls, taking up monetary collections.
Each of these congregations is an example of how church can be a family. That is what I would most like to see catch on to a greater extent in the future. I’m not sure it matters exactly how this is accomplished, and good congregations like these will likely look different in different areas. You will know them by the way they make you feel. Like you don’t ever want to leave. Like these are your people.
–Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado. Email her at [email protected]