“I pray that, according to the riches of [God’s] glory,[God] may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through [God’s] Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” — Ephesians 3:16-17
Back when I was practicing psychotherapy, an Episcopal church in a neighboring town asked me to help them. One of their members was experiencing extreme post traumatic stress from events that had transpired during her childhood. With her permission, they were seeking understanding so that they could be a community of support to her.
Another time the ECW in a different parish wanted to understand a psychosis for the same reason. A young volunteer in their thrift store identified as both gay and schizophrenic. He had run into difficulties in his daily life, and they wondered how to help.
Neither of these parishes would have claimed their interactions with these wounded members of theirs as part of their mission. They would only ever have the one member who was mentally ill. Both parishes were anxious because they were small communities. Neither one of them could pay me to help; they could barely pay their priests’ salaries and keep their church buildings in decent repair. They didn’t know how long they could keep their doors open, and that weighed heavily on their hearts. But they had doors that were truly open.
The above prayer from Ephesians sums up for me what it means to be Christian community. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we worship in a church building. Look what we have done during the Pandemic, worshiping on line and connecting through Zoom. It means that Christ dwells in our hearts and that we are rooted and grounded in love. We come together for mutual support, for the apostles’ teaching, and for prayer. We come to be strengthened in our inner being with power through the Holy Spirit. We come for renewal and hope with which to fuel our Christian practice, which is the outpouring of that love.
You might tell me that this vision is idealistic. It glosses over the petty side of church life. For instance, there are always going to be competitions and struggles. People will always seek power. They’ll have precious rituals or items that they feel they absolutely must protect. They’ll have good reasons for preserving their special bits. When communication is poor, they’ll imagine harms are being done to them. They’ll mount campaigns to fight against the insults that are actually not coming from outside of themselves at all.
You would be right. A Christian community is, after all, a human community. For that reason, It’s really important to pay attention to good communication. And it’s important to learn how to discern together, so that change comes from the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
For we really do have the potential, and the hope — and even the path laid out — to be rooted and grounded in love. We know how to do it. And it is my firm conviction that Christian community will always exist in some form or another so that this quiet mission can be realized. For Christ dwells in our hearts, and the power of the Holy Spirit strengthens us, to do God’s will in the hurting world.
(the image is “Tree Roots” by Vincent Van Gogh)