A reflection for Fathers' Day
Where, in the tussle between faith and family, do our ultimate priorities lie? By Andrew Kleissner
The attendance at our church next Sunday is likely to be rather sparse. This is partly due to a fair number of folk being on holiday (although I doubt that any of them will be going to Stonehenge to welcome the summer solstice!)
But it is also because of something else: Fathers’ Day. In the last few days and weeks several of our members have told me that they will be attending “surprise” family gatherings, arranged by their sons or daughters.
I suppose that I ought to be pleased about this. For, as a Christian minister, I should rejoice that people are making the effort to maintain their familial ties in today’s fragmented society.
But I am also somewhat disquieted: not just that professing Christians are being dragged away from worship, but that they are under a growing compulsion to attend and make merry. To refuse, pleading prior commitments such as teaching in Sunday School, is considered perverse and even insulting.
It is, of course, good to affirm both fathers and families. For, it seems to me, many fathers are finding it increasingly difficult to know their precise role in a world where the mother-child relationship sometimes appears to be prioritised. But my experience is that it is getting harder and harder for people to make such affirmations – of either parent – in church. For both Mothering Sunday (a centuries-old Christian festival which originally had little to with mothers) and the more recent Fathers’ Day seem to be occasions which draw people out of the churches rather than into them.
Why should this be so? In part it is due to the incomprehension which unbelieving family members have of those who profess the Christian faith. The constant drip-feed from retailers, restaurants and the greetings-card industry also serves to emphasise the importance of celebrating these days. But perhaps it is the knowledge that family life does seem more fragile and threatened than ever before which makes people determined to mark these occasions, however forced and phoney the jollity may sometimes be. What a shame they don’t want to do so in church, asking for God’s wisdom and help.
But I wonder if there is something else, which Christians would do well to recognise? For Jesus explicitly stated that anyone who fails to love him more than father or mother, son or daughter, is not worthy to be called his disciple. This is a message I have never heard preached in church, but it’s one which is worth thinking over. For, while there is far more to the Christian life than attending services, one must ask if we are running the danger of elevating “family” to the status of a new religion, one which we allow to make greater demands on us than Christ himself?
Ho, hum: perhaps I’m just a crusty old curmudgeon! Certainly I shall hope for a card or a call from my own son this week, and then complain when he offers the excuse, “But you always say that you don’t really believe in Fathers’ Day”! But I do want to pose the question which, in my view, too few Christians address: where, in the tussle between faith and family, do our ultimate priorities lie?
Andrew Kleissner is Minister of Christ Church (URC/Baptist), Ipswich
Picture: RGB Stock