A New Community

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 
(2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)
When we arrived at the Chikankata Mission in southern Zambia in 1968 it was to join a team of workers assembled from many part of the world to serve with national staff. Some were engaged in the secondary school, others the general hospital, a few assigned to the Leprosy Settlement and its associated programmes. ‘Development’ was the name of the game in the 70s. All had come with the express purpose of serving the people of Zambia in the name of Christ but also with the hope of building his church.
It was a fellowship strengthened by socialising together, by serving together, and by worshipping together. The Friday night prayer meeting, concluding with light refreshments was one of the highlights of the week. Another was the Sunday evening service for 'senior staff'. Inevitably that would conclude with 'the grace' ... of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God. We knew together the fellowship of the Holy Spirit even if we steered clear of trying to define exactly what that meant.
Of course there were tensions as differences of approach and of opinion had to be understood, ironed out and accepted. But in spite of that, a rich sense of fellowship developed and endures, albeit at a distance, nearly 50 years later. And it is that deep sense of community which most remember above all else of their term of international service. 
More recently my wife, Margaret’s admission to a south London nursing home has brought us into another kind of community. The unit comprises eight other residents and their families, together with the administrative, nursing and care staff. The residents may be at varying stages of the dementia that has precipitated the admission, but we're essentially all here to be served. 
Here is our new community. Socialising is done over a cup of coffee in the lounge or just chatting on the corridor, but we get to know each other. There's no weekly prayer meeting or worship service. But here too is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Small wonder then, that we can use the words of benediction in 'the grace' as we say goodbye, or that we can write a few lines when we return home:
Silent hands stretch forward hungrily
With a damaged mind trembling
In anticipation of what was
In a life given and gone,
While another shuffles with perceptible tread
In hypoglycaemic hope,
Waiting to snap up the bread of life
That is cake baked in a brand new oven;
Coffee slurped from an angled chalice,
Its sweetness exceeding that of wine
Yet spilt as blood, shed,
Un-wiped and left to dry;
Our means of salvation revealed,
Expressed in the simplicity of love.
The fellowship of suffering can build a community as strong, if not stronger than the fellowship of service. Both can be bridge-building experiences.
October 2015

Angled cups for people having difficulty with drinking