In light of Lady Edith Crawley’s delicate situation in the first episodes of Downton Abbey Season 4, her grandmother mentioned to Lady Rosamund that Edith needs “cherishing.” It’s one of the Dowager’s rare pastoral comments.
Edith found holy, sacrificial support both from her grandmother and her aunt, but actually Lady Edith needs a bigger church. I say this because it is the church’s job – among other things – to cherish God’s children in the thick and thin of life. A woman with a difficult pregnancy? She needs to know that she is still loved in spite of cultural shaming. A jilted bride? She needs to know that she is profoundly treasured as God’s own child. A quirky middle child? She needs to know that her worth is not based on superficial things.
As I left my former church last Sunday after an invited visit, I felt deeply loved and appreciated, and it was a feeling that everyone should get occasionally. I remember – as the pastor of that church years ago – talking with parishioners who had never experienced “someone ever being in love with them.” There were women who married men for security because “that’s what you did.” But those men had not really cherished them. There were women who had deeply loved their husbands but that love had not been returned in kind.
There were men in similar situations. And my point is that we live in a world where love is not guaranteed and – sometimes – even when we love, it is imperfect and disappointing.
We in the church are called to love bomb each other.
While no church can fulfill every person’s every need, we are called to notice and appreciate each other. We are called to reach out to the lonely and to sit with the grieving. We are called to help the weak and suffering, whether this involves driving someone to the doctor or listening to their stories over tea. One of our most essential reasons for existing is that we are to love those who are not loved by anyone else. We are to love even our enemies and those who persecute us. We are to love strangers and others who are not part of our congregations.
It was not easy to have close relationships in early 20th Century England society. But we can have that here and now, wherever we are. Church requires authentic, safe, compassionate, selfless relationships. Lady Edith could have used a bigger church. We are called to be that bigger church.
Imagine cherishing someone who feels unloved. That is church.