By Pastor Phil Smith, BELLS Community.
There’s something catchy about the title and then winsome about its subtext for those who are weary of magic bullet guides to Church health, vitality, and growth (whatever).
However, Turner’s appeal to village culture is swept up in a metaphor of ultimate chain store systems; Ikea’s labyrinth, taking us to the checkout instead of our spiritual centre. As someone from a small church, in which a grandparent-aged member can babysit for a shift-working mum, I struggled with the idea that a church should be able to “display the range” of products available in a format various households will find acceptable to meet their very particular needs in the diverse parenting space.
Setting aside the idea of pitching or selling a ‘vision’ – this reviewer was heartened by the concept I describe as ‘utility’. There’s a purpose that sits within a wider household context in choosing furniture. Likewise, different families need different things as the seasons grow and go. Having a church that can bring a set of Allen keys to help you assemble what you need is constructive.
Turner writes from a UK perspective. This grandfather from an Anglo background found that more accessible than much of the US-based content I’ve read. I wonder how the vast numbers of Australian parents from Indigenous, Asian, European and Pacifica understandings of “family” will connect with her.
From this reviewer’s point of view, Turner mapped out a somewhat idyllic picture of communities within communal spheres; partners and siblings connecting with and enriching other households within intentional learning spaces of ‘church’ – and all within that wider world of wherever we live.
Perhaps I found the greatest hope and most troubling concern as I asked the text to question my own context (on the Sunshine Coast). Our neighbouring Uniting Church has a flourishing Messy Church program. It engages entire families and dozens of church members from older generations. The gospel is proclaimed, and parenting for faith is revealed as a real possibility.
Yet, many churches maintain/reinforce a culture of Sunday liturgical service. Those parents who can enjoy messy church once a month in the messiness of their family’s sport, school, dance, and recreation daily existence might never become “real church members”, attending weekly on Sunday mornings.
Turner does not shy away from this: “What about children and young people who don’t have Christian parents; fringe families who drift in and out or families who attend our churches to get their children into our schools? What about those we have never seen until they want to get married, baptise or dedicate their children?”
She concludes on a note that struck me personally: “My short answer is: parents are parents. They are flawed, but they are still the main influence in the life of their child or teen.”
Yes, we are.