They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
For the last few Sundays we have been going through our newest member class in our adult education. These classes aren’t just for people interested in new membership at Bethany. But my hope and joy is that current members also attend. Because the truth is, when it comes to membership in a congregation, I hope that we are continually growing together.
And as we are continually growing together, there are some things that will always come up in our journeys of faith.
Faith, fellowship, and family.
We spent our first day in this series talking about faith. And like we often do as Lutherans, part of member classes and faith formation often involved the Small Catechism. We’ve gone through pieces of it in the past as part of our Learning Lutheran series, and I’m sure we’ll tackle Luther’s words directly again next year. (And for those who attend again, I hope they continue to glean new insights!)
And for this class we did look at the Small Catechism, but instead we looked at it through the eyes of Nestingen & Forde in their book, Free to Be.
Growing in our faith together, doing “faith formation”, is really just a fancy church way of saying that we are building our relationship with God. Sometimes this is something we do on our own in our studies and prayers. And sometimes this is something that we participate in together. Through study, through conversations about writings from the past and our own experiences in the present.
Because as Nestingen and Forde say, “You are going to have times of joy and celebration. But there are going to be some tough times too…You need to know how to call out to God, how to get hold of the one who has promised you and who will never let you down.” For me this is the biggest part of faith, is just knowing how to call out to God when you need it most. And then as we build this relationship, as we work on “faith formation”, as we journey together in our faith, we can be continually surprised and excited by this experience.
On our second day in this series, we focused on fellowship. Which is a huge part of membership in any congregation. And although fellowship is a super Christian word – there is a real and important need for this kind of community in our lives. Because that’s basically what fellowship is – it’s a Christian community.
When asked what comes to mind when thinking about fellowship, our members had a lot to share. For many of us, fellowship brings up thoughts of togetherness, church family, gathering, friendliness, joining, generosity, safety, inclusion, acceptance, unity, mutual care, healthy boundaries, and more.
And so together with this lens of Christian fellowship in our minds, we walked through excerpts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s experience in an underground seminary. Life Together is Bonhoeffer’s account of living in a Christian fellowship community. And although we don’t live together (thank God am I right?), we do live our lives together, and Bonhoeffer had many thoughts that spurred our conversations. We traversed the complicated issues of gossip versus sharing prayers and knowledge. We debated about the value in time alone and time together. And we shared the ways in which fellowship allows us to minister to each other.
And as Bonhoeffer says, “strong and weak, wise and foolish, gifted or ungifted, pious or impious, the diverse individuals in the community…are cause for rejoicing in one another and serving one another.”
This Sunday is our last Sunday in this series, and I don’t want to give too much away as I finish preparing our lesson plan. But as we have talked about faith and fellowship, I look forward to talking more about the idea of church family.
And church family is more than just the experience of the family that you choose and that chooses you in a congregation.
Family in this sense is also so much bigger than that.
In our faith lives, when we talk about family, we talk about the family of God, both in the Body of Christ, and even in the family of Abraham and of our world.
I’m looking forward to exploring the different ways we are called as family to love one another not only in our individual church, but in the church, in the community, and in our world.
Join us Sunday, November 5th after coffee hour in the Faith room for the final session in this series!