(Donna Linnemeyer) As the Program Administrator for a large congregation, I find myself organizing many “fellowship” activities throughout the year. After many years I have to admit that I really enjoy this facet of my job. I love the planning and the shopping and the moment when the members enter a room decorated for a special theme and start looking for the beginning of the serving line. I enjoy seeing the members mix and mingle and linger near the end of the event in friendly or earnest conversations. I especially look forward to those last few minutes in the kitchen when the trash has been taken out and the last few dishes are being put away and all of the volunteers are thanking each other for helping with this or that. Usually our “fellowship” event was a success and we are weary, but very pleased as we take our leftovers and our soiled dish towels and go home. The next day, there are usually more affirmations of the success of the “fellowship” event and the good time that was had by all who participated.
So why would Pastor balk at my continual push for more of these “fellowship” events? It’s not so much that he balks at the events but at my use of the word “fellowship.”
Well I don’t know Greek but I suspect the explanation is going to involve the Greek word for “fellowship”. Maybe it is too broad or maybe it is too specific but what seems like a nice, friendly word is apparently going to need a second look.
Sure enough, the New Testament use of the word is not really about the church potluck. “The Word of Life…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3) and “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). But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
Do our Lenten suppers, and dinner auctions and wine tasting parties and elder omelet breakfasts and catechumenate dinners and Oktoberfest celebrations fall short of the biblical fellowship that God wants for us? Yes they do! Does that mean we need to curtail these wonderful gatherings out of respect for the biblical meaning of fellowship? Of course not! We just need to make sure our true fellowship, in and with Christ is first and foremost. Then we can use these events as opportunities to live out our new life in the body of Christ, rather than thinking of them as constituting that new life.
And let’s find a better word for gathering for food and fun and conversation. Open the Thesaurus and look up fellowship. “Congregational comradeship” anyone?
Donna Linnemeyer has served as Pastor Rossow’s assistant and the Parish Program Administrator for nearly fifteen years at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois. Her regular column will be both tongue in cheek and serious thought for how the confessional church ought to be organized and the frustrations of serving one of those crazy confessional pastors.