When I was very little, my mum would take me to ‘Baby Fellowship’. It met in what was the brand new Church Hall, and was a group of mums with babies and toddlers who met together to sing. It’s here I learned ‘The wise man built his house upon the rock’ and ‘AH things bright and beautiful’ amongst other songs. Apart from the songs, the only other things I can really remember are the metal and canvas chairs and Mrs Bristow on the piano. I’m sure there must have been coffee/ tea/squash and biscuits as well, but to be honest I cannot remember that bit. What I can remember is that I enjoyed it.
Later at school, both Infant and Junior, we had a special prayer, called The Grace, which we said at the end of Assembly. ’The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore’, which comes from Saint Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. There is that word ‘fellowship’ again. It’s taken me years to truly understand its meaning. The problem is the English word does not quite say it properly.
Let me illustrate that with a rhyme we used to say at infant school. Reception Class children were called the Greens; Year one were the Blues and the eldest in Infants, Year Two were the Yellows. The rhyme stated:
Greens, greens, runner beans;
Blues, blues, never lose;
Yellows, yellows, tough old fellows.
Baby fellowship? The fellowship of the Holy Spirit? What had that to do with ‘tough old fellows’? The word fellow denoting some kind of person.
The clue is in the ancestor of the word ‘fellowship’ which is the old Norse ‘Fellagi’ meaning a partner in goods, which is quite close to the Greek ‘koinonia’ meaning that which is held in common. Another English word derived from Latin, ‘communion’ (with unity) also translates the same Greek word.
Thus, to be in fellowship is to have union with; to hold something in common with; to share a common life. At Baby Fellowship, Jesus was certainly mentioned, he was present as it were; but our unity with one another and with Him came from our singing together and sharing a common ’meal’ of biscuits, squash, coffee and tea. We were sharing table fellowship.
I suppose the question arises: Who belongs? Is it an exclusive fellowship? Saint Paul tells us that in Christ there are neither slave nor free; male nor female; Greek or Jew. We might add to that Almeley or Eardisley; Kinnersley or Winforton; Whitney or Brilley and Michaelchurch; for we are all one in Christ Jesus. That doesn’t mean that we lose our individual identity, but we see it transfigured and transformed in the One who calls us to be one.
We need not worry that this is an excluding idea. It’s been said that one of the reasons why Jesus was crucified was because of who he ate with, those he shared table fellowship with. These were the very people who had been pushed to the very margins of Israel’s religious life. Not that this was excluding the centre, but rather bringing the centre and margins together. Of course, there will always be those who do not want unity, who feel the loss of self and identity. They are not excluded; if anything they exclude themselves.
So where do we find Fellowship? Upon what is it built? After Jesus is arrested, Saint Peter denies that he knows him three times. After the resurrection Jesus asks Peter three times ‘Do you love me?’ and Peter replies ‘Lord you know I love you’ three times. What we don’t see in English, is the two words for ‘Love’ On the first two occasions Jesus uses a word which means self-giving love, and Peter responds on each occasion with a word meaning brotherly love or the love given to a friend. A higher love is sought, but Peter is unable to give it, and in the end Jesus asks for his friendship.
Ultimately, our fellowship with Jesus and one another demands the loss of ego, and that may only be achieved through the transformative power of God’s grace. But it is enough to offer friendship and to treat one another as brothers and sisters, and upon this love, God, through grace, will draw out the higher love.
Vicar’s thoughts for April 2016