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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

In and Out of Nests: Another Metaphor

Several years ago, a friend of mind house-sat for me. I'd moved into the house not long before and asked her how she liked it. She said it was "a cute little nest." And now I delight in thinking of a home like a "nest." 

Bird nests are built, can be destroyed, and can be re-built. Nests are necessary for birds, but they can live without them as they make a new one. Nests are needed to raise new little birds. Nests are primarily a family home for eggs and hatchlings. 

Birds bring food to their little ones and, at a certain point, encourage them to grow up. Leave the nest. 

It's not pleasant for the young birds. But it's also not cruel of the parent birds to abandon them a bit. Stop feeding them. Stop staying in the nest with them. Waiting just outside of reach and cajoling them. 

If they don't do this, the little birds will not leave the nest, will not grow or become strong, or feed themselves. They will die. They absolutely must leave the nest, as unpleasant as the process is, and there is no way for them to *want* to unless the parents help out. I suppose there may be some who are internally motivated, but the ones I'm familiar with don't. 

Our churches can be like nests. We build them, and something usually comes along and destroys them, for most of Christian history. We love our beautiful cathedrals and old churches around the world that still exist, but many are in ruins and tend to cluster in only a few times in history. 

It's normal and natural for us to want to have a long-lasting home. David and Solomon desired a permanent house for God, and God was pretty clear that it wasn't necessary. A traveling tent was fine with Him. But He appreciated the thought and didn't tell them "no." Instead, He told them "how." The Temple has weathered more damage than a hurricane-ridden coastline over the millennia. 

Jesus said he had no place to rest his head - unlike the birds of the trees. We're still pondering the full import of this message, but we're pretty sure he had no permanent home. At least, that's a good guess. I confess I'm not an expert in this. 

The early church perched in some unusual places, from homes to caves to dungeons before eventually building more permanent edifices later. Political and social and economic unrest has carried most of these off for at least 1000 years, but not all. 

So our churches are not *exactly* like nests. True. Most cities have cathedrals that are not going anywhere anytime soon. Thankfully!

But I find it helpful to understand some of what's been happening in recent decades - and certainly in recent years - in the metaphor of a nest. Especially for our shrinking mainline churches. 

We don't kick out our young. But some feel the need to leave. Apparently. What would happen if we didn't lay a load of guilt on (often younger) people for leaving? What if we saw this as the Holy Spirit at work? Where are they building nests now? How can we help? We can be sure they learned the nuts and bolts of the nest-building process from us. I'd like to be proud of that. I'd like to flock together, even if we don't live together. 

We don't withhold food from our young to encourage them to leave the nest. But some days it feels like we are all the young ones in this nest, and the needed resources are becoming increasingly scarce. What would happen if we didn't see this as a bad thing?

What if we saw this as the Holy Spirit at work? Are we being urged out of our nests? How can we discern and follow where the Holy Spirit is leading? We can be sure that we will still "be church" and make our own nests. We just need to learn to fly on our own, find our own resources in a new world and trust that we are made for this. Because we are! And people like me are here to help!

We are not called to be homeless. God the Father and Jesus the Son were not "homeless." They have homes. It is *we* who are called to *theirs*. That's not to say that building a place for us to gather is hubris. It's not. But what if some of us are being led to something else as well?

What if some of us are being urged out of some nests to build new ones? What if some of us are becoming what we are meant to become - as unpleasant as the process is? How can we be less attached to what is passing, stretch our wings, discover fresh vistas, and share what we find with our nest-mates?

Where are you in your nest? Where do you feel called? What new and fruitful thing might you have already found for your denomination, congregation, faithful friends?


Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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