There are two most extra-ordinary loves that I've had the extreme delight in knowing: the love of a real Father God and the love of friends from church. Both loves are distinct and quite different from other ideas and experiences of love. This doesn't negate the fact you can meet ride or die friends from other places outside of church - I have been super fortunate to meet some incredible people through my work and podcast. But church has formed a building block of how I've cultivated robust, loving and 'you feel part of the family' type connections. I left church before lockdown and returned to it this Summer. It's an impossibility to sustain any kind of faith without the right community to support it.
The love I've experienced in church has a depth and richness to it, that's beyond going for the best lunches in Manchester, cocktails in the best bars, venting on the phone through the worst bits of challenges in life. It's a love that's when operating in a healthy heart - challenges me to see things through a transcendent, all loving, victorious power. Our conversations are distinct because good church friendships doing get stuck in bemoaning or grumbling (which has it's moments) but raise my sights towards an all loving Papa God working things together on my behalf.
There's a quickness and shorthand to church friendships, that in other settings might take a whole lot longer to establish. The speed, trust and love that develops happens faster because both parties have a relationship and established bond with Jesus. I met some new friends from church last week and they offered to pray for me in their home. What unfolded was the most incredible and supernatural encounter with the Holy Spirit. It's like the type of breakthrough that happens months into therapy, but done with such a position to serve and love - and all this happens for FREE. The church at it's best is the hope for all of Manchester's (and beyond's) sadness and ills.
It's important to note that I know it's vital to build friendships outside of church. We need both. It's also wonderful to see dear friends experience church for the first time. That was my story over 20 years ago when a friend from uni invited me to her church for the first time. Did I think it was a bit out there, different, even a little OTT? Yep I thought all of those things but I stuck with it until something changed from the inside out. Now I couldn't do life without my church and am hugely grateful for the eternal friendships I've found there.