How to read the Bible?

How to read the Bible?

Open Book: A space to learn about the Bible together.


16. September 2020In EventsBy Karsten Risseeuw6 Minutes

Open Book is the name for a gathering of interested people, who want to explore the Bible. It is an idea and like a space created to meet and discuss things related to Christianity in general, and more specifically about the Bible. On a practical level, it has a simple structure: All are welcome who are interested. Each evening will have a topic. There will be room to discuss, and we want to benefit from the feedback of each participant. Just be who you are, as long as you are willing to listen and engage.

The intention to offer both an English and a German group did not work. No German-only speakers showed up on the first evening and this series will be in English only now. If you are interested in a German group, please let us know.

A learning culture

Open Book tries to establish a learning culture. A learning culture is completely different from a teaching culture. This is not lecturing and it is not a dogmatic approach, but we try to include all interested people in a process gaining knowledge and understanding. It is more about participating as about consuming. You are expected to ask questions, not just to nod in agreement. Some people might have knowledge, others have questions, but we are all learning. To create a learning culture means, that we acknowledge that everyone is in a process of learning. In this process we want to support each other (something the apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4:15-16).

Series: How to read the Bible?

The first series is an introduction to the Bible. The goal is not only to learn about the Bible, but also to learn directly from the Bible. We have to open the Book and read, ask questions, consider different views and learn to interpret. By doing this together you will quickly gain confidence to read the Bible yourself.

Only when you dive into the Bible itself, you will be able to learn and experience the richness of the book. It is not enough to get some knowledge presented, but we can start an adventure together. The adventure is not only in listening, but in participating, evaluating what you read together. We all need a listening heart.

It is surprising to discover that quite a lot of information is contained in the Bible itself. It is not that you need a lot of information before you can start reading. Simply start! However, there are some key topics and basic understandings that will greatly help you to get started yourself. A few of these topics are covered in the series “How to read the Bible?”.

Series of six evenings:

  • The purpose of the Bible
    What is it all about?
  • Inductive bible study
    How to gain confidence in reading and understanding.
  • Bible translations
    Why are there different translations and which should I use?
  • Everything is for us, but not everything is about us
    Understanding where we stand today.
  • Cultural differences
    Figurative language and other cultural issues.
  • It's an ongoing story
    Learning as a culture.

Summary

Dates: Between September 15, 2020 and December 1st, 2020. See the Calendar.
Time: 19:00–21:00h
Location: Kirchgemeindehaus Lachen, St. Gallen. See the Calendar.
Speaker: Scotty Williams (first topic), Karsten Risseeuw (rest of the topics)
Language: English.

There is a WhatsApp group linked to this series. Latest updates or questions can be shared within the group. Contact the pastor to be added.


Rejoice! (1)

Rejoice! (1)

The foundation of a positive world view


10. August 2020In DevotionalBy Karsten Risseeuw19 Minutes

Being human is not necessarily an easy walk. Believing in God does not solve all questions and challenges. We remain who we are. We still face the same challenges as other human beings. So, how does this faith, this trust in God, affect our lives? For many this seems “incomprehensible”. In the light of these questions it is quite interesting to read what the apostle Paul writes to the fellowship in Philippi, where he addresses this type of question.

The Art of Life

Carefree times in life are important. Those who have been young for a longer time, already experienced that life has its ups and downs. Many times we are challenged. Can our life be shaped differently if we take our faith into account? The apostle Paul talks about these things in his letter to the Philippians.

To be human is what forms our existence. This does not change when we start to believe. We may find a greater confidence, true hope and outlook, or we may experience a deep communion with God. However great, this doesn’t solve our daily challenges. We remain human, but we can learn to balance our lives in the light of Gods presence.

A misapplication of our imagination

Our human experience is not always nice. We worry about things that are still in the future. We may have a financial need and forego many things. Bills need to be paid, we have friends in trouble, worry about our children or parents. Relationships fall apart. We might loose jobs, health, security. Things we didn’t expect simply happen. If we feel connected to other people, this will influence our thoughts. If you worry, you think about something that has yet to come. We worry about the future. However, we live, survive and thrive only in the present.

Worrying, I read recently, is a misapplication of our imagination. I found this an interesting and accurate comparison. What we worry about only exists in our imagination. We worry about what is not yet clear. Even if we make educated guesses about any development, we still cannot look beyond the current moment. As human beings we only live in the present – even if the present is tense (the present tense, so to speak).

We learn over time. The human experience runs along the time. It is essential how we experience and form this time. Standing between past and future, we stand in a unique position. Which attitude towards life and which expectation shape our existence? Worry is something terrible over the course of time. Those who worry can feel it as restricting, as oppressive, as arduous or as a heavy burden – typical analogies to physical reactions. Our thoughts are closely linked to our bodily experiences.

While we learn and live during “time”, how would you like to live this time today and in the future? That is where the gospel comes in. That is what Paul writes about.

Paul to the Philippians

Let us now read what Paul once wrote to the church in Philippi. His words are wise and show real confidence. And yes, he sounds a little crazy at first. Be patient when reading, while we dive right into it to discover what he meant.

This is what he tells the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

Paul doesn’t start with the worries. On the contrary! He asks us to “rejoice in the Lord always”. To be honest, I’d be cautious if someone would be asking me to simply overlook my troubles. Is Paul crazy? Well, Paul does not mean an escape from the world, but a real joy, felt also by you and me. It is about the alignment of our thoughts with the reality of God. That is something quite different.

What the apostle points to is this: We should direct our thoughts towards good things. More specifically, Paul directs to the grace of God. The Lord is near! That is about an intimate understanding of this world in the light of Gods and Christs nearness. But how can that be experienced? Paul mentions two aspects.

  1. The first thing is about themselves. Paul seeks to persuade the Philippians to give the reality of God in their lives a grateful and joyful place. Rejoice! Step into Gods reality.
  2. Then he continues to write: “Let your gentleness be known to all men”. That is the second aspect. Here it is not about our thoughts, but about our actions in this world, towards others.

These are the two components needed. Both together embrace the entirety of this world from Gods perspective of grace. What should people see of us? Gentleness. That is mildness, warmheartedness, an active attitude towards encountering other people with grace and love. Who are meant here? All people, universally. As far as it depends on us, of course (cp. Romans 12:18).

So, we should consciously base our thoughts in the reality of Gods grace, and we should also consciously stand in this world, which ultimately is His. From this position we may witness to His grace, goodness and mildness towards us.

These two aspects encompass ourselves and the world in which we stand. We learn to see ourselves from God’s perspective. What remains is our experience. This experience is not always positive. Therefore, it is human and understandable as we tend to worry again and again.

Let’s see what Paul suggests to the Philippians to overcome this worrying.

Do not be anxious

That’s where Paul exclaims: “Do not be anxious about anything!”

Is that just another crazy thought? Remember that Paul is not addressing extreme issues, but he is writing a letter to a congregation. They should live as a fellowship. They should be compassionate about the right things. This community should be thriving together. Be aware Paul does not write a handbook of psychology for single peoples needs, but it is sober minded advice from a wise man for a larger community.

Paul speaks from his experience. Whatever is on our minds should not circle endlessly around ourselves. Rather, we should make known every wish we have to God. Everything that occupies our minds should be directed to Him. We should put our worries not just aside, but consciously handing everything over to our God and Father – and leave it there. It is like putting trust into action. We do not know everything. We have fears. Mind boggling thoughts might occupy our minds. Paul encourages us to change that state of mind.

This is the suggestion: Bring all your worries to God, Who is above All. That does not mean that praying would solve all issues – it will not. But worrying can be killing all positive thoughts and hope. Bring your worry to Him, then start to act, trusting Him. Your thoughts will change. It’s like getting a sound foundation, gaining confidence by trust. By perceiving things from Gods perspective, you gain some distance to your current troubles. That can be very freeing.

Paul also explains how to do this: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”.

Don’t be shy! Put your requests before Him. Be bold. Be yourself. Just be aware that asking specific things is not the same as making known what truly occupies your mind. This is not about an Amazon wishlist and someone comes along to simply buy you all the stuff you thought you needed. It doesn’t work like that.

In the intimate relationship with God we pray. Out of our consternation we implore. We pour out our heart before Him. We link these things by giving thanks, by being grateful. Thanksgiving is the wrapper around all thoughts and requests and everything that bothers us. To be thankful is the key. Many letters of Paul begin with giving thanks to God. Thus, the attitude, the expectation, the impossibility of our powers is embedded in trusting His work and our thoughts rest in gratefulness. If we align our life with Gods thoughts “by being thankful”, it will have a lasting impact on the way you live.

Our needs may not diminish, but we stand in it differently. We do not have to give thanks for the bad things or for sufferings or our needs, but we can align our thinking with Gods thinking and start thanking for the good things. If we do not succeed in this at the first attempt, we can practice it. Make all your wishes known to him, including your wish to succeed here, where you want to learn to trust. Be thankful. Don’t stop. The Lord is near.

The peace of God

There also is a promise. Paul addresses people like us. They lived in other times, but they had very similar concerns that trouble us as well. Paul makes it clear that we do not get everything we might want. There is no promise of health, economic success, the fulfillment of certain dreams or other such things. The promise is quite different:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That peace of God is the promise. Those who worry will experience peace when we turn to Him. A heart that is troubled by worry can find rest. What do you wish for more? That peace “surpasses all understanding”. Perhaps we analyze exactly why our situation is catastrophic, perhaps even hopeless. These are the thoughts that circulate in our heads. The peace of God is not the better analysis. It is not the liberating flash of lightning by which all problems can be solved. The peace of God transcends such considerations.

The peace of God, writes Paul, will keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. This can be understood in a way that we may rest with our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. He “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. That is like gaining an unshakable position. It’s where we are safe in God’s presence.

Of course these are all images, words that Paul uses to describe the closeness to God, to invite us into that relationship. The Lord is near! Until the words and their meaning work their way into our lives, we must link them to our experience. We store thoughts via emotions and experiences. A word may remain just a word until we set out on our own and place ourselves in the trusting closeness to God. There we experience the word and it’s power. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul says: Do this and that, and then the peace of God will be felt.

The peace of God is not an impersonal concept. It is not a power to tap into. It is not a peaceful immersion or mystical experience, but rather the peace “of God”, namely His peace. We share in Gods peace. It is a peace that is experienced through relationship. However, it is based on an understanding of God’s being, as well as of His actions and work in this world – and in your life. Be assured that God Himself will work in your life. He can make Himself known to you, and give you His grace and peace.

The order is: hear, think, act, experience. Ultimately, this is not something you achieve, but the experience will be that of a gift, given by God Himself (cp. Ephesians 2:8-10).

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:2

Rejoice!

For the apostle Paul this rejoicing was clear. He did not proclaim impersonal ethics. He was not concerned with tradition or with any recipes for success. For him, it was about the relationship with the living God. He trusted God. At the end of the letter, he summarizes:

“My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19

My God! That is his personal attachment. That God “will supply every need of yours” is the personal understanding of Paul for the Philippians. Now one could start again from this verse and ask what exactly is our “need”. But it seems much more important that He “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” fills this need. The focus is  on God and on what He does. It is less about the needs – even if they are real. Paul trusts that there are things that are greater and more important than our immediate perception or experience. By trusting God, you see your life in a larger context. That is where transformation starts.

“Rejoice!” is the reminder of this greater context of God.

Original German version of this article: Freut Euch (1).


Freedom

Freedom

Freedom reveals itself in connectedness


29. June 2020In DevotionalBy Karsten Risseeuw4 Minutes

Freedom is not the absence of limitations. It rather has to do with relationships. More precisely: It has to do with us and how we fulfill our lives in this world.

It is irrelevant whether it concerns the relationship to ourselves, to our fellow men, our life partner and spouse, or also the relationship to God. You even could enhance this idea to our work and obligations and to many more «things». Freedom is, how we experience and define any kind of relationship, be it personal or impersonal.

True freedom is the opposite of selfishness. It has more to do with self awareness and the freedom to commit. Commitment is the opposite of co-dependency, where people “need each other” and only commit to get the “prize of attention”. Truly free people commit and love because they acknowledge their uniqueness and confirm the otherness of other people involved. Love your neighbor as yourself.

In every relationship and in every respect we can only ever bring in ourselves. Martin Buber wrote about relationships:

“The free man is the one who wants without arbitrariness. He believes in reality; that is: he believes in the real connection of the real duality of I and you. He believes in destiny and that it needs him to fulfill it.”
(Martin Buber, I and Thou)

The free man is the man who believes that he is required for the relationship. Neither growth nor freedom is possible without connection, without relationship. It needs both decisions and commitment, but not as demarcation, but as relationship reality. Commitment as connectedness. It is not «freedom from», but «freedom to be and to do».

Freedom – what we grasp of it – reveals itself straight out of any relationship. What we do is showing the level of our freedom.

«For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.»
Ephesians 3:14-19

«For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.»
Galatians 5:13


Subtle racism in Switzerland

Subtle racism in Switzerland

The press about the event "Let's talk about race".


13. June 2020In SocietyBy Karsten Risseeuw2 Minutes

(The rest of the article will be in German, as are the references, reflecting the local language.)

Am Samstag, dem 6. Juni 2020, fand in der Kirche Rotmonten ein Anlass mit dem Titel “Let’s Talk about Race” statt. Die offene Gesprächsrunde zu den Themen Rasse und Rassismus hat verschiedenste Menschen aller Altersgruppen zu einem gemeinsamen Gespräch zusammengebracht.

In den Bodensee Nachrichten vom 11. Juni 2020 erschien eine Zweidrittel-Seite mit einem Bericht des Anlasses. Enthalten war auch ein Interview mit Charmaine Strey zum Thema Rassismus in der Schweiz.

Learn more about racism in Switzerland and abroad

Learning about the origins of racism

Learning about the origins of racism

English and German articles | Englische und Deutsche Beiträge


9. June 2020In SocietyBy Karsten Risseeuw9 Minutes

To understand today’s racism, one must look back into history. Here are some noteworthy shortcuts to historic knowledge and how it works out in today’s society.

Article updated on June 26th, 2020.
Article updated on June 22nd, 2020.


English articles and videos

Deutschsprachige Beiträge und Videos finden Sie weiter unten.

The Atlantic slave trade (1400–1800)

Lesson by Anthony Hazard

Let’s get to the root of racial injustice

TedTalk by Megan Ming Francis

Megan Ming Francis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington where she specializes in the study of American politics, race, and the development of constitutional law.

The symbols of systemic racism

— and how to take away their power

TedTalk by Paul Rucker

Multidisciplinary artist and TED Fellow Paul Rucker is unstitching the legacy of systemic racism in the United States. A collector of artifacts connected to the history of slavery – from branding irons and shackles to postcards depicting lynchings.

A Class Divided

Educational experiment about racism, by Jane Elliot

A must-watch if you care about education.

A Swiss-American view:

We must strive to be anti-racist

. Swissinfo.ch, Swiss perspectives in 10 languages.

Swiss-American Rose Wettstein argues that amid the global outcry over racism and discrimination, it’s time for each individual and each society to face reality and act.

We must strive to be anti-racist

Deutschsprachige Beiträge und Videos

English articles and videos can be found at the beginning of this article.

German talk about racism in Switzerland

Rassismus in der Schweiz unter der Lupe

18. April 2018. SRF Kultur, Sternstunde Religion

Rassismus ist in der Schweiz verbreitet und äussert sich im Alltag meist subtil. Am häufigsten werden dunkelhäutige Menschen rassistisch diskriminiert und auf ihre Herkunft reduziert. Dies zeigen neuere Studien. Eine Debatte über Rassismus und Diskriminierung in der Schweiz.

Schweizer Sklavenhandel:

Die Schweizer Sklavenhändler

30. Juni 2004. Handelszeitung.

«Der Versuch, sich aus der historischen Verantwortung zu stehlen, misslang kläglich. Denn neue, nun erstmals zugängliche Forschungen zeigen praktisch lückenlos auf, dass die Schweiz auf allen Ebenen aktiv in den Sklavenhandel involviert war.»

Die Schweizer Sklavenhändler

Rassismus in der Schweiz

Die Schweiz muss sich ihrem Rassismus stellen

. Swissinfo.ch, Schweizer Perspektiven in 10 Sprachen.

«Es gibt strukturellen Rassismus in der Schweiz und ich erfahre ihn täglich am eigenen Leib.» Standpunkt von Anja Glover zur aktuellen Debatte.

Auf derselben Website gibt es weitere Beiträge zum Thema «Rassismus in der Schweiz».

Die Schweiz muss sich ihrem Rassismus stellen

Racial Profiling in der Schweiz

Wer als «fremd» erscheint, wird auch hierzulande häufiger kontrolliert

. NZZ.

Rassismus ist kein individuelles Problem. Um latenten Rassismus und das Problem des «racial and ethnic profiling» anzugehen, ist Präventionsarbeit und Sensibilisierung der Polizeikräfte wichtig.

«Racial Profiling» in der Schweiz

There is much more information available. Start learning about these things. Speak about it.


Social Media

Connect on Social Media

Ways to stay in touch


Social Media is a powerful connector these days, between people, groups and interests. While not everyone uses Social Media, many people are primarily using Social Media. We want to be found and we want to find you.

Get in touch with the All Souls community on one of the following platforms:

Facebook

Facebook:
allsoulstgallen

Instagram

Instagram:
aspcstgallen

Twitter

Twitter:
allstgallen

WhatsApp

There is a WhatsApp group for people regularly joining the fellowship. Please contact our > pastor if you would like to learn more about this group.


Do not murder

Do not murder

Black Lives Matter


6. June 2020By Karsten Risseeuw1 MinutesIn Reflections, Society

The text in the background is Hebrew and reads “lo tirtzach” (do not murder) from the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), repeated. There’s an idea that the Torah/Bible is black fire (the letters) and white fire (the spaces) and the spaces say just as much as the text. I hope we’re also working towards a world where it’s universally obvious that “do not murder” includes black people, but it’s spelled out here because ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬.

Calligraphy and text by Rachel Stone (rachelestone@gmail.com).
Free to use non-commercially.


We are getting back on our feet

We are getting back on our feet

The event calendar is back again!


29. May 2020In EventsBy Karsten Risseeuw1 Minutes

The event calendar is now switched on again. If you want to know which are the upcoming events that you can join online or offline, just visit the website and have a quick look! We are getting back on our feet!

What is going to change?

  • No regular services till at least the end of the summer holidays (mid August 2020)
  • Digital Services take place > see the calendar.
  • Social events on a limited basis, please contact Inreach.
  • Additional events, like reading the Didache, are planned for June. Contact Scotty Williams.

Check the calendar

God is not religious

God is not religious

Differentiating between faith and religious practice


19. May 2020In ReflectionsBy Karsten Risseeuw8 Minutes

It may surprise you, but God is not religious. People are religious. God is God. That is enough. It is man who tries to shape his attitude towards his creator. This results in various ideas and “religious attitudes”, which then receive a certain influence. Religiousness or religiosity is the expression, the visible shaping of the assumptions about God and the world. Religiousness is human, not divine.

Where do these assumptions come from? Religious traditions are condensed experiences. People can follow traditions without ever having had the experience that led to that tradition. Martin Buber describes that every culture (as probably every religious culture) had a true relationship moment as its starting point. Religious traditions would therefore be memories of these original moments of relationship.

I-It

Man cannot live constantly in true relationship. Martin Buber describes (in “I and Thou“) how man knows two types of relationships. Both types of relationship are described by word pairs. One word pair is “I-You”, while the other word pair is “I-It”. The I-It relationship is related to things. This relationship is demarcative and descriptive. We describe the world and use the world. Values and traditions also belong to this external demarcation.

If, for example, in an assumption about the world something is good and something else is not good, this is descriptive and delimiting. When I call my friends by name and introduce them to someone else, it is also descriptive and shows these friends as “own persons” facing someone else. It is this demarcation that belongs to our world and that we need to move in the world. There is a relation, but it is derived from otherness, from differences and demarcations. When I say “man” or “woman”, they are not things, but the quality is derived from differences, from description and from demarcation. This is the I-It relationship with the world around us.

I-You

This is contrasted by another type of relationship, which Martin Buber describes with the word pair “I-You” (in old language: “I and Thou”, as the title of Martin Buber’s booklet). It is a different quality. Here there is no demarcation, but rather a soul-to-soul experience. In this type of encounter, all descriptive and delimiting qualities are eliminated. It is a direct encounter. It is a moment of true relationship, from me to you, without demarcation lines. Our very being is touched and nothing separates or stands in between.

This direct encounter cannot last. We alternate between the two types of relationship, experiencing the I-You relationship perhaps only occasionally. Then we slide back into the I-it relationship, in which we describe, use and in which we (and others) separate ourselves. But the real encounter for us humans is this I-you encounter. It is perhaps also this quality that is meant when the apostle Paul writes that God will one day be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Religiosity and tradition

It may be obvious that religiousness and tradition always only represent the I-it relationship. They are descriptive and delimiting actions and opinions. They are never to be confused with the essence. Even if the origin of a certain religiousness or tradition is based on a true relationship moment, it has fallen out of this relationship moment (as it inevitably happens). Only then can it become a religious behavior or a certain tradition.

Now what is the value of religiousness or tradition? They are an expression of essence and should not be confused with the true relationship itself. They can, however, be pointing to “the real thing”. If you get stuck in religiousness or tradition, then the goal is lost. But occasionally, despite religiousness or tradition, one can gain a glimpse of the original relationship moments and find one’s own relationship moments. This is perhaps the nearest description of what is described as living faith.

Religiousness and tradition can (not: must) carry people through times of personal spiritual drought. They can (not: must) form a key to understanding. In this sense, religiosity and tradition are quite human bridges or perhaps just “crutches” so that a true core and understanding can be carried through this world.

Image and reference

When we read the Bible, it is not the relationship itself, but Scripture can point to the relationship. The Bible does not speak of itself, but of God. It is about Him. Christ does not speak of Himself, but He speaks of His God and Father and leads to Him. That is His task and that is why He came into the world. We should recognize Him. Paul prays again and again that the believers may know God. We should learn to check what is essential.

If I have the goal of a true encounter, a true relationship with God in mind, then it probably doesn’t matter what tradition I belong to, what church I am at home in, or what environment I once grew up in. Of course, I can distance myself from certain ideas, I can distance myself from opinions that I do not affirm. All this may be necessary. But it is not the core. It is not the kind of relationship we are designed for.

At All Souls, we can be welcoming to anyone wiling to participate in our services and celebrations because we do not depend on certain traditions – even if we gladly use them and learn from them. It is not about religiosity, but about God and about this high-quality relationship between “I and You”. God is not religious, but He is lovingly reaching out to each of us through Jesus Christ, as we are invited to enter and explore true relationships.

––

Original German text can be found > here.


The church we want to be

The church we want to be

The reality of expectations and decisions for our community


13. May 2020In VisionBy Karsten Risseeuw13 Minutes

We all have them: Expectations. We seldom speak about them. When we gather for church, this is no different. We all come with expectations. But something changed: Expectations are shattered in a crisis like we experience today. The very fabric of our community is affected. There is a need to reflect on who we are, and why we are gathering. We need to talk about our fellowship and about our expectations. What kind of church do we want to be?

What do you want?

There is no right or wrong in expectations. Nevertheless, what we think and expect does influence the kind of fellowship we can have. We need to realize – both personally and as a community – what we really want. This article is about you as much as it is about our fellowship.

Let’s assume several expectations we can have – just to play with thoughts. I try to make clear that we can (and will) have different expectations. However, only if we recognize these different settings, we can use them to move forward. As a community, it is all about us. So let’s have a look at some approaches and attitudes.

1. The social gathering

Social aspects are critical for any kind of meeting. For some though, the social part may be the only part of value. If that is the case, and as we cannot socialize today as we have done before, the value of the church is no longer there. Why interact, if “church” doesn’t happen? It appears there is a very loose connection, right?

2. A wellness package

Probably it’s nice to visit a church service on Sundays now and then. That feels good, and is probably the only thing you really want. If that is the case, you like to greet people, but there is no continuous interest to interact on a more personal level. If you feel that way, it’s not about fellowship or people, but about atmosphere, about being entertained, and probably to get a few good thoughts for the week to come. There is nothing wrong with that, but it will be really hard to create a stable fellowship among people from this kind of perception.

3. Let’s play Church

Some like churches because of the tradition. You have always visited a church and you value the rituals and liturgies and the way things go. The church, that is the reliability of an institution and that can give some consolation in ordinary times. “Let’s play church” describes how you might value the outward signs.

Again, there is nothing wrong with that, but during a crisis like today, there is a need to improvise and do things differently, as the previous “normal” vanished. Concepts of church which were valid yesterday, probably aren’t valid today and could be changed tomorrow. We cannot be stuck in the past. We have to ask ourselves many questions: How do we connect? Why do we connect? Is it important to connect? Do we have a common focus beyond the outer structures? What becomes the “new normal“? We have to confront uncertainties and probably learn to live with uncertainties. For some, this might be unsettling. For others, it’s to open a door into better ways of being a church.

4. An overwhelming situation

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our personal situations tremendously. Challenges though are different for everyone. Often you need more energy and  time to do your daily tasks as before the pandemic. I get that, too. It might be cumbersome, but if that is the reality, you probably will not visit any online meetings nor participate in any kind of fellowship.

If 90% of the people would take this stance, the pastor runs out of work, and that’s what it is: Reality. How could we know if you don’t tell us? Your feedback is important for two reasons:

  1. Let people participate in your struggle. That’s what community also is for. This is easier if you already maintained personal relationships before. If not, take a first step towards real fellowship. We are all in the same situation, but we might be able > to let some light shine through the cracks.
  2. Let the community know that you cannot participate, and that it’s not disinterest from your side, but due to an overwhelming situation. This also helps the pastor and other elders to understand what the community needs.

5. Approve what is excellent

Churches have not been founded with social life in view. Originally we are not a social club. Churches were groups of single persons whose lives were touched by the grace of God. They then started to learn about this new perspective and to reflect on it. They loved to do this together and to share their lives as well. To believe means to trust. Communities are great places to learn how to trust. The church as a community has a central focus point in the gospel. People had life-changing experiences because of that message. The “church” was just the result. It was a development from within.

Abounding love, with knowledge and all discernment was the focus (Philippians 1:9-11). There are those who want to learn and share and approve what is excellent. That will not automatically happen. We are all tempted to put other things in focus, like our current needs, our situation, our troubles, the tradition, personal projections etc. Originally these things were not essential. Regardless of the outward troubles, it’s about people who not only want to meet, but also want to approve what is excellent – as an outflow of experienced and practiced love. They will find ways to do so.

If that doesn’t happen from your side, ask yourself why that is. Remember that there is no right or wrong here. Learn about yourself and share your findings.  The answers you get are worth considering, not only by yourself, but also by the community and with a view towards the future. Join the process. Be part of it.

Religious feelings

Fellowship is created by all people participating. Fellowship is not a structure, nor an institution, nor is it depending on people outside yourself. You are at the center of fellowship – if you let it happen. As Martin Buber describes it, relationship is neither in you nor in me, but it is like the electricity surging between the two.

The kind of participation might be different from person to person, but there is no fellowship possible, unless people want to have interaction. In view is not an “event-participation”, but a “life-participation”. Fellowship is not a concept, where very few people do all the work, and the rest come to shop some religious feelings on Sundays. That doesn’t work. Coming to church is not a deal, nor is a church service a consumer product.

Fellowship does not depend on the pastor, nor does it depend on the Elders. Fellowship is simply created by all those participating, sharing from their lives, expressing their interest in learning about the grace of God. In reality, fellowship is only about you. If you participate, you will be part of it. If you don’t, you won’t.

Maturity in faith

Traditional church members (which counts for members of free churches as well) frequently have their eyes on the pastor, who is supposed to lead the flock. That’s what he is paid for, right? I would call this an unhealthy dependency and the avoidance of maturity. If anything needs to change in today’s turmoils of the pandemic, it is this hierarchical thinking and the differentiation between professionals and laymen as an excuse for non-participation. The New Testament teaches something entirely different, where the apostle Paul writes that we all have to mature in faith, “that we may by no means still be minors, surging hither and thither and being carried about by every wind of teaching” (Eph 4:11-16).

Maturity in faith means, that we start to take responsibility for who we are, what we are and to take responsibility for our lives and actions. Simply put: If you want a fellowship worthy of the name, you decide. Each of us decides. This is not about an institution, but about the interaction, the fellowship, the community. It’s about you and me.

Here is the reality: The combined reactions (or: non-reactions) will create the kind of possible fellowship. May we help each other to become who we really are, and to show grace and thankfulness towards each other while doing so.

Simply put: If you want a fellowship worthy of the name, you decide.