I’ve been on a journey and learned that we grow when we allow God’s grace to work in our lives.
We allow Him to take away the ‘speed bumps’ that get in the way (such as restlessness, unforgiveness and bitterness). Speed bumps harm our relationships with other people as well as with God. We are created to be in relationship. We grow best through being blessed, encouraged and loved by others and when we share that love with others.
Some people call that fellowship, but what exactly is fellowship? It is more than small talk and asking a polite ‘how are you?’ during coffee time on Sunday. Fellowship is time spent in caring friendship and journeying in your faith with each other. It includes sharing daily struggles and encouraging each other in love. The Bible has many examples of how we can minister to each other – the phrase ‘one another’ is repeated the New Testament many times. I found this statement in the Snodgrass Ephesians commentary: “we cannot be mature Christians by ourselves, for we cannot give ourselves everything we need for a life of faith. Christ has chosen to grace others so they contribute to us and us to them. Grace comes from God but it is conveyed through horizontal channels” [Snodgrass, Ephesians commentary, p. 221] My priest, Father John Bridges has said many times that his faith is not entirely his own. He is validated in his faith partly by us, the community that loves Jesus with him.
One of my former pastors, Dale, had a lot of practical sayings about church. Dale shared his hopes and dreams for our congregation in a way that I’ll always remember. He said that the church is meant to be a prayer army, a family and a hospital. This triple role was also confirmed to me in seminary counseling class. I learned there that the church is seen as ecclesia (a place to worship), therapia (a place of healing) and koinonia, (communion of saints). When we greet each other during Sunday services with the peace of the Lord, we aren’t just giving hugs and handshakes, although I love these. We are extending love to each other in the Lord’s name. Each time we do this, I feel incredibly blessed. We do this because we have just been forgiven by God for whatever sins we’re given to Him. This is also a time to extend that same love and forgiveness to each other, even if it is just for a minute. It’s worship, healing and family at the same time.
Perhaps a good way to understand Christian fellowship is to ponder the term “communion of saints” – a term that I’ve come to love. I studied at the University of Toronto. While I was in my first year, I took “Basic Christian Beliefs” at St Michael’s College. I became fascinated in New Testament word studies. One of the Greek terms I studied was parousia, (the return of Jesus), another metanoia, (which means changing your mind/attitude). However, the most interesting one to me was koinonia, which means communion of saints, or fellowship.
Although there are many different aspects to church, the one that means the most to me is communion of saints.
It’s more than a line in the Nicean and Apostle’s Creeds! It’s that special bond between Christians that is more than friendship, and deeper than family ties. It’s the sense of deep connection that you have with someone that you have shared and prayed with. When the Holy Spirit fills you both while in prayer together, he knits your spirits and hearts together. This often happens during the healing prayer time that we have in the Sunday services and it is an intimate bond. This is a safe place to be when this bond is strengthened by friendship and inspired compassion. It’s this aspect of church that can make it a hospital and place of healing, because healing happens within relationships.
Of course, we should all know by now that there is no such thing as the “Perfect Church.” We’re all at different stages of spiritual growth and emotional maturity. However, we do see glimpses of how the church should be, for example: during the Alpha Holy Spirit weekend, or the Cursillo weekend, and in small group sharing and prayer time. I love getting to know the guests as an Alpha Course leader. Through Alpha, I have gained really amazing friends. One gentle participant said that he was able to share deep things with us that he never could have with his long-time secular friends. This isn’t because it’s a secret – sharing thing, but rather the sense of trust in each other that is very intimate.
Years ago, “May” was part of one of our Alpha courses. She loved the course, but she didn’t like going to church, except the occasional evensong, (an afternoon service). She didn’t have any fire of course, although she appreciated the company of other people at Alpha. I wondered how she could even survive in her faith completely on her own. Nicky Gumbel tells a story of a young man who used to be very much on fire in his faith. However after he decided to not go to church anymore, he lost his enthusiasm. So he went to see an older, wise man to ask him why he lost his joy. The older man didn’t say a word, but instead spoke through action. Since they were in the UK, and it gets cold and damp in the winter – so the old man had a coal fireplace. All the coals were hot and glowing red. The man took a coal from the fireplace with a pair of tongs and set it down on the hearth. At first the coal was red, but very soon it faded and became grey and then black. The older man then looked at the younger one, and then took the lonely piece of coal and put it back into the fire, where very soon it grew red-hot again. He showed the young man without a single word- why he lost his enthusiasm.
The author of Hebrews encourages us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25) The Apostle Paul encourages us as well that we are a body (in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20). We NEED each other. “Communion of Saints” is also mentioned in the Nicene Creed that we recite each week, so this again confirms how central Christian relationships are to our growing faith.
And so my friends, I want you to have the same blessing that Father John often gives us – that you may see the face of Jesus in those you meet, and may you know his love in the friendships you have. I would also like to add that I’m grateful for the prayers of all my Christian friends during my time in radio broadcasting school. Since I was the only Christian, I have come to value the communion of saints even more. We have something special in God and each other.
Yours in Christ, Laurie-Ann Copple
Laurie-Ann Copple is an Ottawa based media person. She graduated from radio broadcasting at Algonquin College and attends St. Paul’s in Kanata, ON.