Membership or Mishpaha

A few years ago, I invited Bob and Laura Keeley to my church to speak to parents about their book, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith. (What? You’ve not read this book? Get a copy and read it!)

That night, they mentioned the word “mishpaha.” It’s Hebrew for “family.” Kind of. Because it doesn’t mean the two parents and their kids sort of family. Or even just the addition of aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas and cousins. It’s a term that comes from a time and a place when the whole village was your family. (And, yes, they were probably all related to you, but…)

A few months after Bob and Laura visited us, one of our recent high school graduates stood up in front of the whole church on a Sunday morning, and told everyone that he had learned this word mishpaha from Bob and Laura. And then, tears streaming down his face, he said, “You are all my mishpaha.”

I get a little nervous about family language in the church. If we’re talking family, as in the romanticized Victorian notion of it, that’s not exactly what church is all about.

But if we’re talking mishpaha, that’s another matter.

When we no longer live in villages where we are all related to each other, we might need some mishpaha.

One of my guilty TV pleasures is the show Parenthood. It’s about 4 adult children and their kids and the grandparents. I watch it for the mishpaha scenes. The scenes where the whole family gets together for dinner in Grandma and Grandpa’s big backyard; or around the kitchen counter island; or in the park to play tag-football. Those are pictures of the New Creation to me.

On this week’s episode, the mishpaha scene was in a judge’s chambers, where an adoption was finalized. And instead of the promises being made simply between the boy and his parents, everyone chimed in with a promise. (Cue the waterworks.)

And I found myself thinking: I wish, instead of talking about church membership, we talked about church mishpaha. And I wish what we did in worship when we welcome new church folks into the mishpaha looked like this. The liturgical wheels are churning…

2 Responses to “Membership or Mishpaha”

  1. Katherine Says:

    Here you go writing about my favorites: the Keeley’s, mishpaha, Parenthood. Love.

  2. Kirstin Says:

    I love Parenthood, mostly because the older I get the more I wish I lived in closer proximity with family and had more opportunities for their “mishpaha” moments. The show lets me live vicariously. Interesting to think about its translation to church membership.

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