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I’m not much of a joiner. I’m not an active member of any clubs. I prefer to hover on the periphery, keep my options open. Marriage was the only grouping to which I willingly committed myself, though not without some trepidation. Our vicar did a dangerous thing when he gave me the opportunity to run away before the service started. Well, he didn’t call it that, exactly, I think he said something about giving me time to collect my thoughts, but I immediately interpreted it as my escape hatch. I’m glad to say I resisted the temptation. But it didn’t change my usual preference for sitting on the sidelines. I value my independence, the flexibility of being able to opt out at my convenience, not having to commit. Total independence does have its downside, though. The one who doesn’t join remains detached.

I have always wanted to do my own thing, not follow the track others have taken. And I have always suspected that joining a group would stifle that, force me to march to a beat set by others, make me align with people I disagree with, lump me in with them in the eyes of the world. I was brought up in church and for years resisted making any commitment to it even after becoming a Christian, thanks to my fear of commitment. I spent years dancing around the edges, enjoying the good bits, of which there are many, and rejecting the bits I found difficult and at times embarrassing. However, I know and have always really known, that to belong to God, to Christ, is to belong also to his church.

The apostle John said: ‘If anyone says, I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.’ (1Jn 4: 20 – 5:1)

So I have to love all those who love God. Belonging to God means I need to love all who belong to God because in belonging to God, who is Father, we become brothers, sisters. Family. I belong with them, though not to them. It’s easy with those I think wonderful, kind, compassionate and, frankly, lovable. It’s also fine with those who think like me. But I also belong with those whose positions are fiercely opposed to mine or which lead them to violence or abuse of those who disagree with them both inside and outside the church. These people, if they believe that Jesus is the son of God, are also my brothers and sisters in Christ even if their reading of His word points them in a different direction.

I don’t get to choose. But I do get to belong with the apostles spoken of in scripture, with impetuous Peter, who told Jesus he’d die for him and went on to deny him a few hours later. With Paul, the Jewish convert who travelled widely to spread the news of the Jesus he formerly denounced. With Christian martyrs and missionaries down the centuries, the famous and the forgotten, with ordinary men and women who have lived unremarkable but influential lives. I belong with a peculiar people who have contributed great and terrible things to the history of the world. I cannot divorce myself from the bad or take credit for the good. But I must acknowledge my brothers and sisters and say, yes, I belong in the church.

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