There are some things in life you take for granted.
Almost ten years ago now we met at Sofia’s – four couples, a little uncertain, making introductions and learning names. We ordered pitchers of red and white wine for the table and feasted on an array of pizza, pasta and risottos. That first meeting became infamous for a few reasons, not the least of which was that two of us (who shall remain nameless!) completely misjudged our alcohol intake and ended up more than a little tipsy. Who would have thought that a dinner party to explore starting a church together could be so wild…
We hung out together incessantly for that first year. Squeezing together into the little front room in Endeavour Hills, consuming vast quantities of guacamole. Piling up the dishes in a tiny kitchen in Murrumbeena and inviting everyone to crash my parents’ house for a hearty Spaghetti Bolognese inspired by our trip to Italy. We floated into the sunset at Mount Martha, serenaded by guitar and the flickering candlelight, the guys conspiring together to surprise us with a twilight bounty of strawberries and champagne.
We were filled with dreams and hopes for the future, naive enough to believe that we could create something untainted by the flaws of our past. We passionately debated issues and reordered coffees one night at the Pancake Parlour, trying to thrash out our theology together. When we finally ‘launched’ Tribe a year later, we were flung headfirst into all the rigours of sustaining a church – rosters, rental agreements, speaker systems and morning tea supplies. The closeness we had come to know as a group of friends sometimes tested by the requirements of putting on a gathering.
Along the way we met many beautiful people. With only a handful of children at the start we pompously pontificated that we would embrace the chaos of youth and scorn a formal children’s program – allowing the kids to participate fully in the service. As the kid count began to steadily increase, we quickly rethought our strategy.
Change has been our constant companion – from moving venues to reframing our focus, from a firm conviction about unpaid staff to taking steps to employ someone. There have been people that have come and gone, conflict and tears, but through it all we have managed to sustain something raw and beautiful – a community of families growing up together, thriving on deep discussions about life over good food and wine.
Over the weekend we went away together, venturing into the biting cold and making our way west to Ballan. Layering our clothing, huddling around the fireplace, we shivered and laughed as we watched the children shed their own jumpers and enthusiastically launch themselves into vivid worlds of their own imaginings. It was a bit like a dance – seamless and beautiful – as everyone worked together to create meals, launch children down the skate ramp ‘slide’ in the recreation room, and wash endless mounds of dishes. We rugged up and visited the Farmer’s Market in the town, sampling buttery, flaky croissants, marvelling at home-grown truffles and reluctantly buying an expensive pumpkin & polenta sourdough loaf that Eli somehow managed to lick. The men valiantly herded hyperactive children while the die-hard op shop fans among us conducted an impromptu tour.
It was in the courtyard at the Farmer’s Market under large oak trees, we were grouped together laughing and the children were filled to the brim with excitement. I looked around and realised how lucky we are. In a world where connection is sparse – limited often to family and a handful of friends that we have somehow managed to avoid offending – a group of people that have weathered conflict and still enjoy doing life together, that is a rare gift indeed.
Later that night – after feasting on homemade gourmet pizzas cooked in the rustic black pizza oven – (most of) the children had succumbed to the bliss of sleep while we played board games, drank wine, chatted in front of the fire, conducted table tennis championships and gleefully watched the results of a bet gone wrong with an acapella performance of ‘Shake it Off’.
The future is uncertain. The rigours of maintaining an official church bring with it many inconvenient stresses and requirements that we often writhe under. But this – the doing life together, sitting down to meals and the Ball Game, talking deeply about faith, life and doubts, having our children grow up side by side – we cannot do without.