Our daughter, Juni, nuzzles deeply into her handknit yellow blanket each time I lift her into her crib. Whether naptime or bedtime—and many roadtrips in-between—her “banky” is her constant companion. Our friend Gwen surprised us with the blanket, bundled in a simple ribbon, a few weeks after Juni arrived. Gwen, a recent retiree, and acquaintance from our church did not tell us she was working on it before she gave it to us rather matter-of-factly.
“I make these blankets for new babies in our church and I made one for Juni,” Gwen shared when she handed the treasure to us. The blanket is a reminder of Gwen’s generosity. But even more, the blanket reminds us of the practical provision of our church.
According to Pew research, the percentage of Americans who place a great deal of trust in the Church has been cut in half over the last 45 years—from 43% to 20%. During that same period, those who place very little trust in the Church has more than tripled—from 7% to 24%. It’s not undeserved. There are scores of valid reasons Americans grow increasingly distrustful of religious people and our institutions.
In this new religious landscape, most of my Coloradan neighbors are unconvinced they should attend church rather than indulge on Sunday brunches and backcountry camping trips. Colorado is one of the least-churched states, with just one in four Coloradans attending religious services regularly. The mountains lure hikers in warm weather and skiers in the cold. The sun and snow beckon more alluringly than the pews and praise bands. Today, churchgoing in Colorado is more of a surprise than an assumption.
Pragmatically—beyond the sacramental and theological reasons I believe in Church—I cannot imagine how we could survive without our church. Since joining our church ten years ago as fresh newlyweds, my wife and I have welcomed four biological children into our family and fostered seven more. And we would be adrift if not for the steady support from our church family.
I don’t know the religious commitments of the founders of mealtrain.com, but they are doing the good Lord’s work. When each new child has joined our family, friends from church established a Meal Train, inviting our church friends, acquaintances, and even quasi-strangers from our small church to give us meals. These meals have been a lifeline over the last month since the arrival of our fourth, baby Mack.
For months into the lives of our new babies, lasagna trays, Indian takeout platters, and bountiful salads show up on our doorstep. They always arrive, it seems, at just the right time. While rocking a new baby in one arm and wrangling feisty toddlers with the other, these meals allow us to easily get food on the table. Sometimes these gift-bearing guests join us for dinner, but more often they stop in to say hello, kiss the cheeks of the new baby, and leave us with warm food ready to-be-dished-up for our growing hoard of hungry children.
When we sit at the table and enjoy the meal prepared for us by our church family (or their favorite takeout chef), we are more than just grateful for our church. We partake in the generosity of our church, feeding on their kindness and compassion toward us in those chaotic early months. In our seasons of highest vulnerability, these meals remind us of whose family we are in. Over ten years, dozens upon dozens of meals sustained us, allowing us to hold on a bit more surely to the healthy routine of family dinner, and, to our sanity.
Our non-churchgoing friends recently welcomed a new baby into their home. When our church friends provided them with meals, it came as a surprise. Though Meal Trains certainly exist outside of the Christian church community, it did not seem to in theirs. And, it made me curious as to whether evangelism marketers might consider a different approach. Rather than a kitschy catchphrase, perhaps we should title our tracts: “Free meals for exhausted parents” or “Handknit blankets > Store-bought blankets” or “Suffer the sermon for the casseroles.”
Most new parents have friends. And, they have friends who bring gifts and meals to help them survive those first few months. But what’s remarkable about a healthy church aren’t our friends, but those who are not yet our friends. Almost strangers, they sit at the opposite side of the sanctuary and participate in different corners of our church’s ministry. But because of church, these are strangers-turned-family who show up exactly when we need them to. As the confounding magi with Joseph and Mary, these friends arrive bearing gifts—not of gold and frankincense, of course—but of enchiladas and barbecue.
We are never more evangelistic about our church than when we have a new child in our home. In these exhausting moments, our church is our lifeline, so much it’s hard to not talk about it. In our increasingly self-sufficient, though isolated, Western societies, this practical case for church could do good work for us. Not all new parents are ready for the lectionary, but believe me, they are all ready for a hot meal.