The Church that Plays Together
Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:2-3
As a young doctor, Stuart Brown was doing research into the character of murderers who otherwise had no criminal history. He discovered something amazing, a common thread in 90% of their stories: as children, their play was severely restricted.
Brown, a workaholic, spent many more decades studying play. He learned that children grow empathy through the rough-and-tumble of play, that play lowers stress (duh!), that play makes us more innovative and helps us adapt to change. He finally got the message, and started to play more.
Lent is all about being more grownup, right? Serious as a heart attack, grave as the grave.
But at church, the hub of much of our spiritual practice, how many of us talk exclusively about the “work” of the church? We often treat the stuff we do at church as a kind of bitter endurance contest.
How often does the phrase “play of the church” enter our vocabulary? What if we played all-ages kickball after church on summer Sundays? Or had adult time in the bouncy house at the block party? Or a polar bear swim at the winter retreat on Cape Cod? Or threw an awkward dance party with bubble machine and disco ball, watched the kids go crazy, and went crazy with them? I have photographic evidence that all these are possible, and more.
Play, Brown said, is any activity that is purposeless, dissolves ego boundaries, and brings joy. I would add: it’s also an activity that delights God, who, after all, was the first one to play. What was the Creation, after all?
Lord, may we never take ourselves more seriously than You. Amen.
Molly Baskette is senior minister of First Church Somerville UCC in Somerville, MA, and the author of the book Real Good Church: How Our Church Came Back from the Dead and Yours Can Too.