On this side of heaven, every community we experience, no matter how tightly-knit, is temporary. People move on both in terms of geography and life stage; especially in a city like Boston, three or four years with the same group of friends is hard to come by.
In fact, it’s reasonable to expect that the joy of close fellowship will soon be followed by the loneliness of transition–aching for friendship to come while missing community past.
For the last few months, I’ve been in just such a period of in-between. After several years as a member and then leader of a legendarily close small group at church, we decided it was time for the group to “multiply.” As we considered how to make this happen, my husband joked that we could split by “new people and old people.” It was surprisingly tempting; the “old people” had gotten very close.
But we knew it was time to divide precisely so that “new people” would have a chance to experience what we had enjoyed for years.
It’s been challenging. More than once, our weekly meeting has comprised only me, my husband, and my co-leader. This was especially disheartening because now instead of walking a few blocks, Bill and I were driving across town from our new home to attend.
At first when attendance was this poor, we’d just recombine the groups, or cancel, but we quickly realized that doing so would prevent the groups from truly coming into their own. So we’ve resolved to meet even when “meet” was a generous word to describe how many people were there.
And slowly, God has proven himself faithful. From a group that was almost entirely Asian and Asian-American, we’ve become one of three races and six different ethnic/national identities. Spotty attendance has slowly filled in, and this past week as we studied corporate worship, I felt so much joy to see how members whom we’d prayed for and texted week in and week out were truly praying and caring for one another, expressing and reinforcing the importance of meeting together.
This was our passage:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
The two parts of this passage which really stood out to me are in bold. The first strikes me because the writer of Hebrews does not just command us to stir one another up, but to consider how to do so–to give thought and deliberation as to how to encourage in our particular community contexts, for each unique brother or sister. It’s one thing to love someone when they’re right in front of you, and another level entirely to think about how to love someone whether or not they’re around.
The second strikes me because as much as corporate worship is a habit, neglecting to meet is also a habit–and at some point, the latter can be a habit more so than the former. At some point, we decided not to let that be the case. Even though my commute is much longer, even though Boston is bitterly cold in the winter, even though sometimes no one was there, I’m so glad we did not neglect to meet together.
Photo: Beigefarbene and braune Teetassen (C) 2017 Marco Verch – CC Attribution 2.0 – http://bit.ly/2EFU24N