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Growing Church, Community and Family

As you read this I am in Nashville, Tennessee visiting friends. I met Cheryl and her husband, Chris, 26 years ago when they hosted me as a soon-to-be ministerial student attending the Willow Creek Global Summit. At that time they had four children under eight. In the last two and a half decades I have visited them, we think, 26 times and they (and some of their now five children) have even come to visit me. They are among my closest friends (although not geographically, of course). Chris walked me down the aisle at my wedding and Cheryl signed the marriage document.

The first time I stayed with them I barely saw them as I was busy attending seminars and visiting tourist attractions but there was a definite connection and I really enjoyed staying with their, then young, family. I was surprised, however, when, as I was leaving, they said something like “You should come and visit us again when you have more time to spend with us.” I didn’t know if they meant it, after all it’s just the kind of thing people say when parting, isn’t it? It’s a bit like when we make friends with people on holiday and say, as we leave, “We should meet up when we’re back in the UK!” but we don’t really intend to do so. That being said, I felt that they were sincere in their invitation.

The following year, in between years at ministerial training college, I decided to take them up on their offer, but it was not without some trepidation: What if they hadn’t really meant it? What if, when spending more time with each other, we didn’t really get on that well? What was the worst that could happen? (I had visions of getting in a taxi to the airport and trying to change my flight). Memories of the connection that I had felt 12 months earlier were dim, but I decided to take a risk, trust God and plan for the worst-case scenario! I am so glad that I did!

The friendship that has developed over the years and over the miles (I try not to consider the carbon footprint of our relationship!) has seen us offer one another support through good times and bad. We still don’t agree on everything - in fact I think our opinions have diverged further over the years. But I am accepted for who I am; I am one of the family. This week I’ll be helping to celebrate one of their sons' 30th birthday, and I get to be part of this because 26 years ago I decided to trust God and take a chance on a connection that I felt with two of his (very special) people.

As I reflect on this journey of more than two and a half decades, I consider what might not have been if I had not chosen to take that risk. I also consider what I have likely missed out on by not taking a chance on other people that God has put in my path. I am convinced that we all need to take more risks and intentionally build relationships with the people that we meet on this journey of life. This is how we will grow the church; this is how we will grow community; this is how we will grow family.

Sophie Carnaby-Denyer MTh

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