Moving is always a troublesome, headache of a chore. I’ve moved from Georgia to Kentucky to Colorado to Wyoming to South Carolina over a span of six years. For those who may be curious, that is a total of three thousand seven hundred eighty-three miles across fourteen states, lugging a family’s worth of stuff nearly the distance from Atlanta to Juneau, Alaska. We have lived in a house, three parsonages, and two apartment buildings (I like the apartments best because someone else does all the yardwork) and have seen neighbors and friends come into our lives through those travels.
One of my fondest memories was that of moving into the Beeson Center Housing my first year at Asbury Seminary. We had to wait an extra week for the seminary to finish cleaning out the apartment. During that last week at home in Thomaston, we spent our time packing and getting ready but also being with friends and family as much as possible. I remember the Siscel and Peterson families coming over to help us load up the truck – and watch my conniption fits when things fell off the truck. Finally, all was loaded, and our family had out sleeping bags to sleep in the floor of the parsonage, part of our plan to get up and get on the road fast with a quick breakfast from McDonald’s.
The Peterson’s, who were the resident Presbyterian pastoral family in town, were the last to leave and would have none of that, though I have no doubt that the Siscel family wouldn’t have either. Christopher and Alisa insisted we come to their house, get a good night’s sleep in a real bed and a hearty breakfast before setting off to the bluegrass. I remember the bittersweet emotion of standing in the Peterson’s driveway, knowing that our dinners together with them, the Siscel family, and others would be fewer and farther between. There was regret in that, not in the decision to go that was a calling, but in that our friendship would be long distance now instead of across town. With a series of tearful goodbyes, we climbed into the truck and drove north to a new experience of life.
When we arrived in Kentucky, the Beeson Housing was empty, being used for overflow for those waiting to move into the new Kalas Housing area. We unloaded and began the process of setting up our apartment, enjoying a nice lawn for the kids to play on and getting accustomed to the train tracks being less than a stone’s throw from the back door. Then, the neighborhood began to grow. Along with friends, family, and fellow seminarians, I helped the first family move in and then another and another – Harris’, Balasundarams, Days, Flores’, Halls, Rogers – before long, most of the buildings were full and we had a small village of people all in the same seminary boat with us. We were becoming our own neighborhood, our own tribe, centered around our calling to come from hometowns all over the United States and study together for ministry.
I realized the depth of our community that first Thanksgiving together in 2012. All of us students were looking at finals and church services in the parishes we served and really no way to get back home for the holiday. One family in our group had some friends who were missionaries that had retired to a house just off campus, a short walk from our apartments. They allowed to use the house as a gathering place for our holiday dinner and I cannot begin to tell you – although I have and probably will again – what that experience was like. I have come to think of it as the perfect meal: Kimchi, Korean barbeque, Tex-Mex from the Valley, Cajun infused dishes, and southern style holiday dinner and fixins’. It was one of the greatest meals but more importantly, one of greatest times of fellowship I have ever experienced and served to underscore the depth of the community that we shared for the three years our family lived in Wilmore.
This has been quite a journey to get us to this point. We have looked at the things that we need to take with us on the journey, a way to travel, and had a look at the road itself. Along the way we have talked about things like engaging God and imitating Jesus. We have talked about the gifts we have been given to grow and to help others to grow and what our next steps should be. And now we come to something that ties them all together. It is the idea of community spirituality.
When we talk about the church, we are usually thinking about the local church, our community of faith, the people we know and love as family. Community spirituality is the way that community, our community connects to each other and to God as one. It is the goal that Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-21 when he said,
I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
In other words, Jesus was praying for the unity of those who were there but also for those who would become disciples after them, through the ministry of those disciples and their disciples and so on.
Looking at Acts chapter two, we find the community of disciples growing into something new. The disciples, that is a group of about 120 people who have been following Jesus, have just had a difficult couple of months. They have seen the trial and execution of their beloved rabbi and Messiah. Then, they saw his resurrection and witnessed the miracle of resurrection life, having spent the better part of forty days after Jesus resurrection with the spirit of their beloved teacher. At the end of this time, they watched Jesus go up into the heavens. Afterward, they are sent to wait on the Holy Spirit. When it comes, everything changes.
The Holy Spirit fell on the disciples as they gathered in the upper room of a home during the Jewish celebration of the Feast of Weeks. Emboldened by the presence of the Spirit of God, the disciples of Jesus began to preach of Jesus life and message to the crowds, testifying in the many languages of the Jews and others who were in Jerusalem. After these testimonies, particularly one from Simon Peter, the crowd of people asked, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter responded with a simple expression of what it means to begin the journey of Jesus, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.” The response to Peter’s words was the mother of all altar calls, as three thousand people chose to join the disciples in their fledgling expression Judaism. From this, the community of The Way was born.
There are several things that we can see from the birth of this community and many more that we could talk about, but I would like to look at three things I notice. First, the disciple’s community centered around the hope they found in the life and teachings of Jesus (Acts 2:37-41). “The existence of any Christian life together depends on whether it succeeds at the right time in bringing out the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God’s reality, between spiritual and human community.” What this means is simply that we as those who choose to follow after Jesus’s Way are seeking to live into a reality created and focused by and on God desires, not our own desires. We are truly a community of God when we live into the ideals of what it means to worship and live according to Jesus’s teaching about God.
Second, the disciple’s community was learning from the loss of their beloved rabbi by continuing to live out the teachings he taught them (Acts 2:22-24). They were learning at this first stage that “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” It is through Jesus in that we are only able to experience true community with one another when we are bonded in The Way of Jesus. It also means that only by being ‘in Jesus’, meaning only when we ourselves are immersed in the life and teachings of Jesus in a way that reflects those teachings and ways of life to the world around us, are we truly able to find community in each other through the common bond of the worship and following of Jesus. “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
Finally, the community had reason and purpose. The disciple’s community saw themselves as reformers of Judaism not starting a new religion, a light to their Jewish brothers. (Acts 2:36) It was not their intention to create a new religion from the teachings of Jesus but to bring a fresh expression of their Jewish faith to the larger community of Jews. The intention was to illuminate the consciousness of the Jews with Jesus’s interpretation of the Jewish scriptures and the Jewish way of life. As the Johannine community writes in the First Epistle of John, “This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.”
Community Spirituality in practice
Looking at these practices from the early church, we see that at the heart of them was the idea that we all do this together. Each person brings their talents, gifts, abilities, and we throw them together to see what God can do with them. And that is the formula:
(ability+availability) x the Spirit of God=?
I placed the question mark there because we never know what the ministry will look like, what the call or work will be until the Spirit of God gets hold of it to shape and mold it in and through us. The part we play in this is a part we cannot fail to play. We have to work to shape and mold our abilities as individuals and together as a community and we have to make ourselves completely, totally, available to the Spirit of God to work in and through us to realize God’s vision of making followers of Jesus.
Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. (J. W. Doberstein, Trans.) New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco/HarperCollins.
Bonhoeffer, D. (2015). The Communion of Saints: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church. London: Forgotten Books.
 (Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 1954, p. 37)
 (Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 1954, p. 21)
 (Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 1954, p. 30)