‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’.
So says Paul in 2 Corinthians 13, and so have Christians said for two thousand years since, as we have made his words into a blessing we invoke on ourselves and others.
But I’ve often thought that we drain the lifeblood out of the third part of the phrase – ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ – by over-spiritualising it. Fellowship in the early church didn’t just mean warm feelings at the coffee hour – it meant that those who had plenty shared with those who had little, so that everyone had enough. It meant that those who were safe went to the aid of those who were in danger. It was a real, practical, bodily-incarnated thing.
Another word for fellowship is ‘communion’ (that’s the way the NRSV translates the verse from 2 Corinthians 13). We refer to our Anglican family of churches around the world as a ‘communion’, and Bishop Charles Jenkins of the Diocese of Louisiana has just borne eloquent witness to the power of that fellowship in the face of Hurricane Katrina. The following quotation from his diocesan newspaper comes to us courtesy of Grandmère Mimi at Wounded Bird:
I shall never forget the day the tea arrived. Cases and cases of tea, shipped to us by the Bishop of Ceylon. More tea than I have ever seen at one time donated to us in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
I remember my amazement when at “Community Congress 1” the realization came upon me that many of the volunteers working there were from London and came as part of the efforts to help of the Church of England.
How strengthened I was when Bishop Josiah Fearon of the Diocese of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria phoned to say that the entire Diocese was praying for us and he and a group were trying to find a way to come to us. Eventually, Bishop Fearon came and he came to see about me.The amount of the check may have been small, but how grateful we were for the ordinand in the Church of England who asked that the loose offering at his ordination be sent to us. That check with tens of thousands of others has made a difference.“Like a deer caught in the headlights” was how someone described me after the levees failed. Then a call came (I wonder how he got through) from Rob Radtke at Episcopal Relief and Development asking what we needed. How the heck did I know? I told Rob we needed him. Though brand spanking new to the job, he managed to get on a plane and come. He brought with him Courtney Cowart and Peter Gudaitis.It was humbling to be asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Lambeth Conference of 2008 to search out the Bishops from Burma so affected by tsunami and pray with them. Of course, they had been praying for us.When evil stands before me, I stand not alone, but this fractious, schismatic, heretical, wonderful, faithful, sacrificing, Christ-like Communion stands beside me, before me, behind me, and above me. As lonely as the past four years have been, even in dark nights of depression and doubt, I have not been alone. The last phone message I had before the system went down was from the Rev’d Susan Russell.The tabernacle would not open in St. Luke’s Church, New Orleans, when Frank and Phoebe Griswold and I moved aside trees to get into the church. We had Holy Communion there in the muck, mold, and mud thanks to Senior Warden Elvia James who managed to get the door open to the tabernacle. That Holy Communion pointed me towards our Communion.Communion is not only about right believing and right acting. When our lives were in the ditch by the Jericho Road, when we had been robbed of life’s dignity and much of the material of life, our Samaritan was the Anglican Communion. Rich and poor, orthodox or whatever, conservative and liberal, they came to us. They gave us of what they had and all prayed for us.This Communion that I have experienced is the Church forced by circumstance to be what I think God has created His Church to be. I warn those who would break down and destroy this tender vessel that they are on the side of the enemy. Whether the iconoclasts be from the left, the right, or from the don’t care side of things, let the warning be heard, Communion matters. Communion is not simply a matter of affiliation, or of like-minds; for some of us Communion is life or death. Communion is more than a man-made Covenant between us. We are called by God the Father into a greater Covenant that we dare not break. We are called to be here, together, one, broken, messy and yet strong, faithful, and rejoicing in the Lord.The issues are many, the disagreements and disappointments many, and the opportunity to each do our own thing (which we suppose to be of God who blesses all our doings) is enticing. Such is not real religion.Yours in Christ,The Rt. Rev. Charles E. Jenkins
From Churchwork, Fall 2009, the official publication of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
To all of which I can only say – yes, this is what it means to be part of a worldwide family of Christians. Thank God for one another, and for the love of Christ that motivates us.