July Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. This one sentence in Acts 2:42 tells us a lot about life among the first converts to Christianity. These were Jews who heard Peter’s Spirit-filled proclama-tion of the Good News at Pentecost and committed their lives to following Jesus. As you might expect, their new life in Christ was marked by worship, study, and service, but equally important to them was bread breaking and fellowship (Greek: koinonia).

When we consider the marks of Christian discipleship, one aspect that tends to get overlooked is fellowship—the practice of koinonia. Koinonia is translated as “fellowship” in this Acts passage, but elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated as “communion [in the Holy Spirit]” and “sharing [in the body of Christ; in the gospel; in the Spirit; of faith].” As you can see, biblical fellowship is more than just sharing a cup of coffee with someone after worship. In its fullest sense, the fellowship described in the Bible means sharing our lives with one another. While this might begin with a cup of coffee, it doesn’t end there.

A powerful and profound aspect of fellowship is that whenever two or more gather in Jesus’ name, the Spirit is at work building the ties that bind us in Christ. It is easy to think this only happens when we face crises, significant life transitions, or experience loss or trauma; however, the truth is these bonds are built whenever we spend time with one another. Relationships formed around a cup of coffee, washing dishes in the kitchen, pounding nails at a Habitat for Humanity building site, in prayer, in small group settings, and so on are all important to growing Christ’s body. Koinonia is an essential part of the fabric of our Christian identity; discipleship is not a solo endeavor.

May Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
As we read on Easter Sunday, it was in the breaking of the bread that two disciples realized that the stranger they had invited for dinner was Jesus! Up until that moment, he was just some traveler who happened to be in the same direction. As Cleopas and his friend reached their home in Emmaus they invited their traveling companion to join them for dinner. Inviting a stranger to dinner no small thing, but it was that decision that set the stage for their epiphany.
Hospitality is risky business, it involves opening your personal space to others, it means being generous, and it means being vulnerable. These are all reasons why Paul lists hospitality as one of the true marks of a Christian disciple (Romans 12:9-21). Welcome strangers as family takes practice, patience, and the ability to recognize the needs of others.
On Easter, our hospitality was put to the test as we hosted breakfast between services. Would there be enough for everyone to eat? Would we have enough room at the tables? And one circumstance we were not expecting: would we be able to welcome someone experiencing an apparent psychotic episode? And would we be able to balance the safety and comfort of everyone else who sat down to break bread?
Perhaps you noticed that one our guests fit that last category. If you encountered this guest, you may have felt uncomfortable and even a bit threatened. You may have wanted this person to leave, but you may also have felt that doing so might cause more harm than good. Believe me; all of these thoughts crossed my mind. There was one other thought: maybe God had brought this person to us to demonstrate the risky hospitality we read about in the Bible. Maybe this was an opportunity, not a threat. As I said, all of these things crossed my mind as I spoke with and observed our guest.
What I found helpful and comforting is that we have people in our church who have the gifts and training to interact with people in the midst of psychotic episodes and other mental health crises. I spoke with several of them at breakfast, and they offered sound advice on how to establish firm, non-threatening, boundaries for our guest. They also agreed to help maintain those boundaries and strike a balance of comfort and safety. Their approach was grounded in kindness, compassion, and a concern for the wellbeing of all—the very essence of Christian hospitality. It was an epiphany all its own.
If this story strikes a chord in your heart, please consider joining me and others from the FPCPA family at the Mental Health First Aid training in August. God brings many people to our doors—some of them with delicate needs, and all of them seeking comfort in the house of the Lord. Together we can make our church home a space of welcome, comfort, and safety for all.

Godspeed,

matt sig

March Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
Last month's snowy weather was a reminder of how important it is to be connected with one another. When the forces of nature bear down on us as they did in our February Snowmageddon we realize how vulnerable we are to the forces of nature, particularly out here on the Olympic Peninsula. Streets were impassable for days, schools and businesses were forced to close, grocery store shelves were left bare, and some were left homebound for well over a week. Yet out of that chaos emerged an abundance of stories of people reaching out to help one another ... and later wondering why we don't do this more often.

The importance of being connected is one of the reasons I cherish life in the community of Christ, particularly as we practice our connectionalism as Presbyterians. We Presbyterians hold as central to our existence a commitment to life in covenant with one another. Theologically speaking, we believe that we cannot be faithful followers of Jesus Christ apart from one another. Practically speaking, we understand there is so much more we can do together than we could ever hope to accomplish on our own. Beyond that, our hearts tell us that life in community is good for the soul as it provides opportunities for sharing, learning, and bearing one another's burdens.