For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4
One of the final projects we worked on before we moved in was the mudroom. The entry into the cottage, it is a narrow room that was originally the front porch and enclosed in the seventies by Joe and Clara to keep the wind from whipping into the kitchen every time the door was opened.
There was a lot going on in that small room: Two sliding glass doors eight feet apart, a step up into the kitchen, a cracked concrete floor, a chimney on the far side, an electric panel that had to be hidden, and lots of old wires that came from the outside across the room to the electric panel. And a leaky ceiling. We had big plans for this small room, but those plans were essentially frozen by sudden snow melt that made us realize we could go no further on the mudroom until the leaky ceiling was fixed, which meant a new roof. Over the whole house.
In addition to expense, the problem was also the timing—it was February and we were moving in in March. A new roof in time for us to move in was impossible. So we did what we could on the mudroom — three walls and a new tile floor and new stovepipe down the chimney for a wood stove. The ceiling was just covered in insulation and the one wall that faced the entrance was left ugly and exposed. It was what everyone saw when they walked in the front door, but it couldn’t be finished until the ceiling was put up and the ceiling couldn’t be put up until the new roof was on. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that each part has to be coordinated with the whole.
It was two summers later that the roof finally was started. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that many people working together makes the project more manageable. Even the contractor husband, who likes working by himself, admitted he couldn’t do the roof by himself, even with my puny, inexperienced help. Especially with my puny, inexperienced help.
We organized a work day and several faithful friends from our church showed up and worked hard, putting down roofing paper, measuring, cutting, and nailing shingles. That July was one of the rainiest months on record, but we only had to scurry off the roof once, and mostly the cloudy days were a blessing. Anyone who has ever worked on a roofing project knows that temperature is ten times magnified up on the roof.
We had rented the dumpster for two weeks, and that was the timetable. The project was costing enough without having to add any extra fees. And with help from our friends we finished it in plenty of time. I am reminded of the Amish who band together and build houses and barns for their neighbors in need, knowing that one day they will be in need and those same neighbors will be there for them.
In his novel Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry calls those friends and neighbors your membership. He writes,
“…The work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had the need the others, or enough of them, would come…”
This is what true membership in a community is about. Oh, we try to legitimize it in groups with dues, membership cards, meetings, but true membership has none of those formal rituals. There is no settling or keeping track of what is owed, at least, not out loud. You go because you are needed, sometimes without being asked, because you know that those same people will do the same for you in your time. It is what we all long for, isn’t it?
To know and be known; to accept and be accepted; to love and be loved. It is the human condition, the human need, and I worry that in our modern technological lives it has gone missing. The devices we hold in our hands or on our laps substitute as our membership in community, and how will that affect the generations to come?
The church has been provided by God to help us be a community and extend community to others. In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 as he writes to them about the church as the body of Christ, he says, “…its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
If I were honest, I don’t like the idea of official church membership. It seems too much like a club that one can join and leave on a whim. And we all know members who don’t pull their weight, don’t come to meetings, barely pay their dues… God asks more of us than just membership; He asks for the true, pure membership that Berry writes about. In truth, I would say that God has put that longing in our hearts—the longing for pure and real love among our neighbors, of which the church is to be the archetype, the standard.
We fall so short. But when we manage, it is a beautiful thing to watch church members serve each other—by teaching, by listening, by encouraging, by offering food, by giving rides, and yes, by helping to put a roof on someone’s house. It is loving your neighbor, which Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 is the second greatest commandment. By doing the second greatest commandment, we are also doing the first—loving God with all our strength, and all our mind, and all our heart. That is why our hearts sing when we get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to serve.
That day on the roof there was work, there was talk, there was laughter, there was food shared. Hammers rang out, voices rang out, love between friends rang out, and God was pleased.
For further study, read Acts 2:42-47.
Questions for thought:
- Have you had more than one community “membership”?
- Who is your membership now?
- Describe one of the most meaningful times of fellowship and service you have experienced with them? What made it so?
- Do you think life in modern America hinders true community membership or is that just an excuse? Is it something we need to work on to change?
- Truthfully, I’ve always wondered why western Christians don’t heed these verses in Acts. Are we so invested in our individualistic capitalistic private enterprise economy that we can’t see that this early church is Socialism? Aargh! Perish the thought! I’m being a little facetious here, but what are your thoughts about this?
- An effect of the lockdown (on me, anyway) is not being able to enjoy my church community in the ways that we used to. Technology has been wonderful–here we are on Zoom! and I’m grateful for the new far-away pastors we’ve discovered–but I think that has played a part in my feeling far away from my church family. What are your favorite verses about Fellowship/Community?