The problem is five siblings who all married within five years and birthed a total of 25 children in rather short order. Growing up our visits between families were regularish but not exactly clockwork. Most of us had a twinsie born in our year or pretty close to it. If you couldn’t find a partner in crime at a family gathering, you simply weren’t trying very hard.
As young twenty-somethings who began to show up at each other’s weddings we launched a biennial reunion so critically important, my husband and I chose to arrange our wedding around the very first one. Weird, I agree, as a honeymoon activity, but we showed up.
This year, I seriously wondered if the whole gig had hit its max.
Most of us are sprinting past the fifty-year mark. Even second cousins are struggling to stay up all night eating ice cream and playing games, which is telling. That torch is passing to third cousins with teenage energy. If all attend, the numbers are staggering. Perhaps this grand event was losing steam.
This year we gathered on the home place of our grandparents. It was a beautiful setting but low on shelter facilities. We had no rain plan. Actually the plan was to have no rain. It worked.
It takes a village to put on an event of this magnitude and a village rose up. Locals hosted out of state guests. At the farm, we shared meals, nostalgia, stories, and silliness. Add an old-fashioned hog roast to the weekend and we were well fed.
It is a capital crime to hold a Hilty reunion without ice cream.
So we brought in a johhny-popper engine-driven-outfit churning five gallons at a time. It took 15 gallons of ice cream to satiate this crew. It might be an addiction on the most Mennonite of orders.
a few lawn games, smores, adult coloring pages, a hymn sign and a few dozen Chinese lanterns rounded out a fun-filled weekend to catch up with seldom seen family members.
In a two short days, we remember what we have in common. All of us can claim our Mennonite heritage and a common family tree. Regardless of where we ended up, each of us grew up in a branch of the Anabaptist faith and found personal faith at an early age. The cultural implication is sturdy and significant. We share a love for ice cream, Dutch Blitz, accapella singing, and Jesus.
Certainly, it is easy to concentrate on our differences, which become more pronounced over the years and ever more visible through social media. But our differences generally reflect diversity in our expression of the same central faith. To participate in the weekend, it is necessary to leave your hatchet at home. We practice our culture with varying degrees of intensity but as we age, we seem to be gaining more grace for each other.
Here’s the diggity dog deal.
Membership is precious. In fact, my family has a general rule not to haul along a romantic interest until there is a ring on the finger (if you wear rings). ‘Cuz once you are in, you are in. You might be a dork, but you are in. We may be a motley bunch of folk with a variety of giftings, talents, and idiosyncrasies but we all claim the same family tree and try as we might, we can’t cut branches off. And the family keeps getting bigger. Yet the growing size doesn’t diminish my contribution it merely heightens the experience.
I come away remembering where I came from. This weekend of nostalgia and reconnection doesn’t tell me anything about where I am going, but it gives me confidence in where I have been. It is oddly comforting to belong to something larger than myself. They can’t get rid of me if they tried.
I am a part.
Isn’t this what people crave in so many ways?
It is no wonder Jesus built the church. Sure, we can all pray and read our Bibles by ourselves, but the idea of the church came straight from Jesus.
Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
It is a big church and should only be getting bigger. Jesus clearly intended us to work together. We put up with everyone’s idiosyncrasies and capitalize on each other’s gifts.
These days we hear a lot about the deficits of large churches. Only the “best” get the spotlight and the lesser-gifted are ignored. Better to attend a small church where you can be a big fish in a small pond. Or “no one sings anymore” in big churches. Really? Sure, a huge sound system can overpower congregational voices if you aren’t careful. But a wise worship leader leads rather than performs, often backing off to let voices ring out in chorus.
That’s what I noticed this Sunday. I could barely sing overcome with thankfulness to God for the amazing and glorious assortment of souls who make this body the church. The voices around me were deafening. And the size of this church doesn’t diminish gifts. If anything, it sharpens them. In the corporate body of voices, my flagging soprano is covered and enhanced by the participation of skillful singers around me.
In community iron sharpens iron.
Or it should. Certainly, we hold the line on the message of the gospel. But we can let our petty differences drive us to distraction or we can celebrate a common faith where my contribution counts.
I am a part. You can be a part. We should be inviting others to be a part.
Oh that we could go back to our places of worship with the abandonment of children. Content to play on a dirt pile – few expectations, grace for those around us.