Families, don’t you just love them? Well sometimes we do. I’m sure the Queen, who is clearly devoted to ‘The family’ must be left pondering as for the second generation in a row things have gone a bit haywire. As a rule I try to avoid talking about the royal family. My views and those of others can be quite at odds. I am an avowed democrat who believes we are all equal. I dislike privilege and elites in any form. That notwithstanding I have a level of sympathy with the characters involved. Especially given the level of public scrutiny that they are under.
So what’s gone wrong? Well as we all know when things go pear shaped in our families it’s complicated. Things are no doubt said that shouldn’t be said, and they are heard in a way which was not probably exactly as intended, resentments and frustrations grow and bingo… a family is in turmoil. It may help to consider what families are for, why they are actually so precious to us. I consider one of the greatest things about families is that they are places where we should feel that we belong. The very essence of what it means to feel ‘At Home!’ They should also be places where we can be challenged and encouraged. This is the heart of our formation as people. We all develop when given the right balance of encouragement and challenge. Sadly finding that balance is less easy, especially as we all seem to need varying amounts at various times in our life. My children have sometimes commented that I was too strict, and at other times too soft! However family should also be places where it is OK to be ourselves. Once we have to ‘put a mask on’ we are not really feeling at home. Family ought to be the place where it is OK to fail, at least sometimes.
I wouldn’t dare speculate what’s happened in the royal family. After all, if I get it wrong I could be sued, or worse, hung drawn and quartered for TREASON!! However it troubles me that one aspect seems to be that Megan Markle, or Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex doesn’t feel as if she belongs or fits in. Is it because she’s American, or Coloured or because she’s a ‘commoner?’ I doubt anyone really knows for sure but we all know how uncomfortable it can feel not to fit in.
Anyway leaving that particular family aside, hopefully to discover reconciliation, what does all this mean to us? Well family principles are the same for us all, the only question is how wide we understand our family to be? Is our family, nuclear, or extended, does it include the people who live near us, or our friends? What about our country is this a family where we feel we belong, where we are nurtured and challenged and where we can be ourselves?
I have the privilege of being a church leader. I often describe the church as being a family, or at least we should be. A place where people feel they belong and can be nurtured and be honest to themselves. Another aspect of family which is true of church is we intend to be multi-generational. It doesn’t always work but when it does, it’s great. For the young to learn from the ‘older’ and the old to learn from the young. I am proud that I think most of the people who are part of the church feel that it really is good to be ‘together!’ The challenge I keep trying to give us is to extend our family. By this I don’t mean just getting more people to come along, although of course we hope people would feel welcome. But how can we extend that sense of belonging to others around us? The Bible says, ‘God sets the lonely in families.’ However we live in a time of great loneliness, too many feel isolated and ‘not included,’ which creates the opposite of nurture, it creates anxiety and fear. In Frampton we have the excellent ‘Good Neighbour Scheme’ where volunteers simply try and befriend those who have become, often with age, more isolated. It is great, but it is the tip of the iceberg.
So my thought for the month is simple…love your family. Yes of course those near and dear, but look around you in your neighbourhood or in your workplace. Does someone need to feel that they belong? Can you encourage them or challenge them to see things in a new way, can you help them to feel that it’s OK for them to be who they are? If there is a yes to those questions then my challenge is clear, go for it. We do have a problem in our ‘family’ our society. Too many are lonely and isolated feeling they don’t belong. Maybe you are even one of those. But in ‘families’ most of the ‘solutions’ are internal, not just what will others do about it, but what can I do. So pick up the phone, or send an email, or even better bake a cake and ring on a doorbell or meet someone for coffee. If all that sounds ‘too much.’ You could start by something as simple as a smile and greeting, every little helps!
Stephen Newell (Minister of Zion United Church, Frampton Cotterell)