The Spiritual Lesson found in Room to Improve

The life lived in our house is not so unlike the life lived in the church; things will get messy. 

The world is in grief, at the moment. Or, at least, in a state of extreme anxiety. Orange alert, one might say. I scroll through Twitter for more minutes than I’d like to admit, reading headlines and opinions and rage-filled requests. It gets my Irish up, it makes my blood boil, it fills me with fear. And these dark things are not a good stewardship of my free time.

So on Sunday, my friend – another American living on green soil – sent me a text. “Good news on a dark day: Room to Improve is back on tonight!”

This WAS good news. But first, we had plans.

A friend of my husband’s was being installed as Minister-in-Charge at a Dublin City church. This was, of course, brilliant news and we trekked into town with a couple hundred others to witness this holy moment in the Church of Ireland.

I’d never been to one such thing before. In the church I came from, pastors were not installed so much as they were elected. The minister-to-be and his wife would “candidate” for a few weeks, guest-preach behind the pulpit, partake in the after-service potluck. They’d visit Sunday school classes and hold Q&A sessions and lay out their ministry action plan for the congregation and community. When finally elected, we’d line up to personally extend the right hand of fellowship to the pastor and his wife, and welcome him as the new head of our family.

I’m not sure if our friend did such things leading up to his appointment. It’s possible he did and I’m just not super-aware of the Church of Ireland way of doing things. But I can tell you that his introduction to his new parish could not have been more different than what I had known.

It had the formality of a wedding, the joy of a homecoming, the shouts of revival. It was a sacred service, a reverent one, and I was extremely afraid of sneezing or leaving my mobile on. We sang hymns that shook that old building, voices unafraid to be heard in praise. And we saw friends from all over this city, from different churches and backgrounds and countries, all come together to witness this commissioning into full-time service.

It was, indeed, a sacrament. And one I was welcomed in on as not just an observer, but a participant in God’s love for His church and this city.

Which brings me to Room to Improve. (Stay with me).

The Irish Times published a fantastically snarky recap of its premiere episode, with more than a few clever spiritual analogies thrown in.

“I picture devout families kneeling around the television,” writes Patrick Freyne, “fingering paint swatches like rosaries and gently murmuring ‘more light’ and ‘east facing’ and ‘Open up that kitchen a bit, Dermot’ in unison.”

The life lived in our house is not unlike the life lived in the church; things will get messy.

Now I wouldn’t say I go that far, but I am drawn to it not unlike I am drawn to the Irish church. Everything looks different and new. I can see how my ideas, dreams and desires might be taken into account and transplanted into something that flourishes, and I can picture myself growing, living, serving there. Also, the accents are the same.

But it does make me a little twitchy about my past, the houses and churches I came from, or maybe even my current situation. I tend to feel slightly discontented with my landlord’s furniture, my lack of white space (both physical and spiritual). I think of all the ways I need to improve, and in fact there are many, and that if maybe I cleaned myself up more, if the house were tidier, the church a bit nicer… if life was maybe a tad less messy, wouldn’t we all be a bit better?

The life lived in our house is not so unlike the life lived in the church; things will get messy. And the church of my youth is not all that messier than the Irish one where I now make my spiritual home. It is newer to me, yes, but it is ancient and distressed. It needs regular service, a touch of paint, someone wiping down the toilets, windows washed – ah, Dermot and his windows – to the let the sunlight in. Sometimes it may even need to be gutted to make way for something better.

And then our feet, our children, our communion crumbs will dirty it up again.

The white vestments of a minister’s introduction will get scuffed up. Dirt will line the hem, wine will drip on the cuffs, tears will be shed down the collar. Those robes will need to be laundered, regularly made clean again, made fit for holy service.

But how beautiful are the feet? And how generous the blood that cleanses all these things – even me?