MERICAN HUMORIST GARRISON KEILLOR WRITES OF THE GRADE school year in his semi-mythical hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, in which an anxious school principal assigned each of the students who lived on an outlying farm to an in-town “Storm Home.” Afraid that children might disappear in the depth and ferocity of a January blizzard, the administrator made certain each had a place of shelter and safety close to the school.
Keillor describes how significant the thought of his “other” home was for him as a child. He walked by the Kloeckls’ well-tended lakeside home, noting its orderly gardens, imagining the kindliness of the elderly couple who had agreed to take him in should the feared blizzard ever strike. Unfortunately, “no blizzard came during the school hours that year. All the snowstorms were convenient evening or weekend ones, and I never got to stay with the Kloeckls, but they were often in my thoughts and they grew large in my imagination. My Storm Home.”
The humorist has deftly touched the ache in all of us for a place where people choose to love and welcome us—some social unit built on kindness rather than obligation. For many, as Robert Frost once offered, a biological family home is “the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” But we long for a community, however small, that speaks the language of safety and embrace, even when we’ve blown it big, especially when we’ve got it wrong. Our hearts cling to the idea that there really is some place where the first words to greet us at the door might be “Come right on in!” not “Why are you here?” or “What have you done this time?”
As religious persons, we naturally expect that the churches where we worship could be such places of safety and welcome—“storm homes” for people like ourselves whose thinking is not always righteous and whose lives are frequently not orderly. We have heard that there are such churches in the world, and on some wintry Sabbath mornings we imagine what it might be like to be visiting one of those. What might it be like to be greeted with more than a worship bulletin or included in more than the visitor count? What might it be like to sit with—and not apart from—other worshippers, to lean forward as a community when the Word is preached, to sing with solidarity and not in lonely solo? What might it be like to be told—assured even—that the messiness of our lives does not alter our worthiness to be loved by both Christ and His people?
Ah, the churches we build in our imaginations. How often they are in our thoughts, warming us when the cold is all too real, sustaining us with the hope that the place we fellowship might yet truly become a genuine “storm home.” In these semi-mythical havens we create, leadership is given to those who love, and forgiveness always edges out assessment. There is much bending and bowing; there are many embraces, and even some tears of joy.
So here’s a call to plant that kind of church in your community—and more specifically, in your congregation—in this new year. Your fellowship need not divide in order to become a place of safety and inclusion: it rarely helps when all the kindhearted ones swarm to some new storefront location. Determine, by the grace of God, that you will exude warmth when you walk through the doors this Sabbath; that you will speak words of peace and welcome to the visitors—and to those who have been acting like visitors for 40 years. Ask yourself, “Would a lonely person feel loved by me? Would a sinful heart find my company safe?”
“Blizzards aren’t the only storms and not the worst by any means,” Keillor writes. “I could imagine worse things.” We all can, and we know in our own stories how much we need some place, some ark of safety.
Here’s to the building of thousands of new Adventist fellowships this year—storm homes every one.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was printed January 14, 2010.