“The church is gone!”

I was the last person to leave Kristen and Keith’s house when they hosted Refuge a couple of weeks back. Kristen and I were talking by the door when sleepy Owen made an appearance and walked his little body over to the living room window that looks out onto the front yard and street. I observed as Ryan walked over and joined Owen, both of them starring out at the rain and empty road. “Look, Owen!” Ryan remarked. “The church is gone!”

When I was a nine-year-old like Ryan, “church” was a big round building on the corner of Hall Boulevard and 22nd. It felt monstrous in size, topped with a white cross and lined with bushes of pink flowers in front of all the windows. The parking lot was generous, giving me numerous scrapped knees, level ground for rollerblading, and ample space for water-balloon tosses that inevitably morphed into water-balloon fights. Church was a place, a building, a destination. We got in the car to go there and left confident that the church would still be in that exact spot the following Sunday. The church was that place you imitated when you wove your fingers together and recited the rhyme learned in Sunday school, “Here is the church, here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.”

Ryan demonstrated profound insight when he said to his brother, “Look Owen! The church is gone!” Ryan made that observation based on the fact that all the people were gone. It’s a hard concept to grasp as a kid—the church isn’t the building or the place that we meet, but the people in it? The many members of Christ’s living body?

Ryan’s statement gives one glimpse of how our children are being formed at Refuge. Our simple practice of meeting in different homes each week has caused Ryan to understand that “church” means “people,” not a building or structure, without ever having to explain this to him. His insight is yet another gift I had not anticipated when I became a part of this unique community—this body of Christ.

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