Communion of the Saints

  Here are some things to think about concerning Christian fellowship, or, in the words of the Creed, “the communion of the saints.”  Eugene Peterson spoke the following in a 1981 interview. 

“…When we arrived [at our present church home], one of our goals was to develop spiritual community.  I thought it would be pretty easy: we’d get these people in our home, pray together, sing some hymns, and we’d have it.  Well, it just didn’t happen.  Sometimes we felt we were making progress, but it never really happened.”

“Then a young woman in our congregation died of cancer.  She was thirty-one years old and had six children.  About a month after she died, the father was discharged from his job and then lost his house.  We took those kids into our home.  Suddenly things started happening.  Food would appear on our doorstep; people would call up and take the kids out and entertain them.  It was almost as if we came to a place of critical mass.  Then it just exploded, and we suddenly had community in the congregation.  It didn’t fizzle out either.  The hospitality increased and people took an interest in each other.  It seemed almost like a miracle, and it took just one incident to trigger it.  All our earlier attempts to create community now bore fruit because of the meeting of a need that wasn’t part of our strategy.”

Q: How can other churches develop community?

“It’s very difficult to get, and there’s not much community in our country.  Most of our relationships are based on needs, on rules imposed on us.  There’s no shortcut to true community.  We’re immersed in a transactional society where we trade things off, exchange things, and consume things.  To get to the point where we’re open and vulnerable enough just to be with people is not all that easy.  But the thing that is prominent in my mind now is that at our church we did everything we could think of to develop community, and it didn’t develop.  We did one thing that wasn’t part of the strategy, and success, if you want to call it that, came.”

“An overweening, or overbearing, desire to be successful, it seems to me, inhibits attainment of true community and true success.  It prevents us from doing things that are risky, that we can fail at” (p. 234-5).

This entire 1981 interview can be found in Eugene Peterson’s Subversive Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997).

shane lems

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