Community formation as a key practice of the Ukrainian baptist communities
Formation of a religious community living together. The impact of the formation of the community of practice in modern conditions in the context of Community Baptist. Humility as a guide path, forming relationships and types of activity of the commune.
|Ðóáðèêà||Ðåëèãèÿ è ìèôîëîãèÿ|
Community formation as a key practice of the Ukrainian baptist communities
community baptist religious
The aim of this dissertation is to investigate the practice of community formation and to see how it can be connected with our vulnerability as human beings. In this work I also attempt to explore what impact the practice of community formation could have on contemporary life particularly in Ukrainian Baptist context. I argue that community building should be a central point in the life of contemporary Christians. According to James McClendon, this practice needs to go along with two other subpractices which flow to the spheres of sharing and reconciliation. In this dissertation I consider sharing with a special focus on two aspects: shared meal and sharing ourselves. Then I look at reconciliation as the way of many steps which should be done toward the restoration of broken relationships.
In this dissertation I intend to explore the community formation as “powerful practice” James William McClendon, Ethics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), p. 218. following the thought of a Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, and to investigate what impact and influence it can have on the spiritual development of faith communities in Ukrainian Baptist context. I would like also to look at this practice through the lens of our vulnerability as human beings, and the ways how it can be overcame. I was motivated to explore this topic, first of all, by a great lack of investigation of the practice of community formation as such in the Ukrainian Christian literature and publications. The second reason for this exploration is my personal experience which I had in one Ukrainian Baptist community to which I was belonging more than 17 years.
This faith community exists already around 20 years. When this Baptist church was just emerging, the members of the community literally were burning to serve, to go forward, and to spread the good news among the people. I could evaluate that time as the period of growth and development. Unfortunately, later this “flame” died out. Therefore, after many years the consequences are that the community is getting smaller and smaller, excommunications are frequent, and constant conflicts and misunderstanding among the leaders and church members erode the community from inside. This Christian community is slowly dying. Consequently, during this investigation I am going to refer to this particular community as well.
According to my own observation, there is little understanding of the crucial importance and centrality of this practice, especially among the church leadership. However, development of community should be a major practice. Shannon L. Jung, Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), p. 136. Therefore, through this dissertation I also want to see how the practice of community formation can be applicable to faith communities such as this one. In the same time, I would like to address this work, first of all, to the church leadership in the context of Ukrainian Baptist communities. From my point of view, Christians need to consider more the example of leaders by which others should follow. Larry Spears suggests that it plays a fundamental role for the leadership. Larry C. Spears, Focus on leadership: servant-leadership for the 21st century (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002), p. 27. If the church leaders have this practice of community formation as a vision, and follow this vision, then others will follow it as well.
The practice of formation community gives a great meaning to Christian life. Community building should be a center and norm for Christian life for contemporary Christians as well as it was crucial for earliest Christian communities. J. Wm. McClendon, Ethics, p. 229. The achievement of it requires intentional participants. Ibid., p. 218. Without this intentional attitude there will not be community's growth. However, the development of the practice of community formation needs to go along with two other Christian “subpractices”, as McClendon points. Nancey C. Murphy, Brad J. Kallenberg and Mark Thiesen Nation (eds.), Virtues & practices in the Christian tradition: Christian ethics after MacIntyre (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997), p. 85. It contains sharing in the covenantal meal and reconciliation. Ibid., pp. 85-86. Therefore, following this, my dissertation has been divided into two parts based on the practice of community formation. The first part named “Shared Life.” This title has a special meaning. McClendon in his Ethics focuses mainly on the sharing in the context of covenantal meal. However, from my point of view, this “subpractice” has a wider context. It could include not only sharing in the covenantal meal or meal itself, but also other aspects of sharing ourselves with others. Arthur G. Gish, Living in Christian community (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1979), pp. 65-68. Therefore, in light of these considerations, I focus more on the particular word sharing, which can include more than covenantal meal. The second part of my dissertation is called “Reconciliation,” based specifically on McClendon's approach.
The first part of this dissertation will examine the issue of sharing with its extended context. The first chapter gives a brief overview of the faith community as “koinonia” or fellowship. The next two chapters describe the issue of sharing as “shared meal” and “sharing ourselves.” Here I would like to draw special attention on the word sharing, to which I refer in both cases. For the first time, I used an adjective shared. In this case, shared meal means meal which is sharing or shared with someone, or involves others in the process of sharing. For the second time, the word sharing used as a verb. Thus, sharing ourselves here sounds more like a calling to do, to share ourselves with others, and for the sake of other people.
Therefore, by this casuistry, I would like to put between the lines a special focus on an imperative, on a calling to share; because this approach for sharing should come from our own fundamental attitude to share with others. Sharing should be an essential aspect of who we are. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 60. If we do not have such genuine motive to share, then all our sharing will not have sense. Finally, the last chapter of the first part describes the virtue of hospitality as a foundation for sharing. Hospitality should be a way of Christian living, which involves us in sharing. Christine D. Pohl, Making room: recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), p. 172.
The second part of my dissertation will focus on the process of reconciliation. In this section I would like to make connection between the practice of community formation and our vulnerability. I want to show how our sharing can hurt us and make us vulnerable. Here I also would like to touch the issue of betrayal. However, there is a way how to overcome these vulnerable feelings, and this way is in the forgiveness. In the same time, forgiveness is just the first step or “the prelude,” as William Klassen calls it, in reconciliation. William Klassen, The forgiving community (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1966), p. 212.
Finally, in the last chapter of the second part of my dissertation I will try to give the answer on the questions: “Are “to forgive” and “to forget” the same? Is there any difference between them?” According to my observations, many Christians think that forgiveness means forgetting, and they quite often cite to the passage from Isaiah 43:25 where God said, “I will not remember your sins.” However, as McClendon points out, people do not need to take these words with “literal simplicity.” J. Wm. McClendon, Ethics, p. 225. Therefore, I will argue that there is difference between “to forgive” and “to forget.”
1. SHARED LIFE
1.1 Faith community as “koinonia”
At the beginning of this chapter I would like to give one definition of the community which was created by William Sweet. William Sweet is a Catholic philosopher. He said, “A community is… a group of individuals whose members show affinities with one another, who may share history, language, and culture… and, hence, who have common interests and common good. These individuals are, then, socially interdependent, share certain practices… that both define the community and are nurtured by it.” William Sweet, `Religious Belief, Political Culture, and Community', in Ramos, Alice and Marie I. George (eds.), Faith, Scholarship, and Culture in the 21st Century (Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), p. 300. However, it implies much more than merely the group of people. Parush R. Parushev, Ovidiu Creanga and Brian Brock (eds.), Ethical Thinking at the Crossroads of European Reasoning: Proceedings of the Third Annual Theological Symposium of the International Postgraduate Theological Fellowship (Praha, CZ: IBTS, 2007), p. 34. It should be the community of koinonia. John Henson, Other Communions of Jesus: Eating and Drinking the Good News Way (Winchester UK, New York, NY: O Books, 2006), p. 13.
The word koinonia is the Greek term, which means “to share with someone in something, to participate and share in what others also share, to hold in common.” A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 30. The community of koinonia also “signifies the bond joining the believers together to become the body of Christ. The church is in communion [koinonia] with Christ and one another.” John H. Y. Briggs (ed.) et al, A Dictionary of European Baptist Life and Thought (Milton Keynes, Colorado Springs, Hyderabad: Paternoster, 2009), p. 290. It implies “the bond of belonging and solidarity among members of a community.” P. R. Parushev (ed.) et al, Ethical Thinking at the Crossroads of European Reasoning: Proceedings of the Third Annual Theological Symposium of the International Postgraduate Theological Fellowship, p. 34. On the other hand, it is not only divine gift for the faith community; however, it also should be “the goal of all its striving.” J. H. Y. Briggs (ed.) et al, A Dictionary of European Baptist Life and Thought, p. 290. The koinonia community leads to the idea of “the sharing of life to the full, at its deepest level and in all aspects.” J. Henson, Other Communions of Jesus: Eating and Drinking the Good News Way, p. 13. It is striking to deal with the translation of koinonia or fellowship from English to Ukrainian language. “Òîâàðèñòâî, áðàòñòâî” are Ukrainian equivalent words which can be used for English “fellowship.” Translation is mine. These Ukrainian terms means the relationships which are in the deep level of relationships of brothers and sisters. Translation is mine.
The koinonia also implies the unity about which Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21a). John 17:21-23: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” English Standard Version Bible. In this paper I will use this version of English translation of the Bible. The unity is cement that keeps community together as a monolith. There is an ancient saying, “Strength is in unity.” This gift of unity can be expressed and experienced only when there is a community of people. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 112. The foundation that keeps this genuine common unity is love. Love is the heart of united community of koinonia. However, love is not just sentimental idea. It is the process which requires sometimes very hard work of learning how to love each other from day to day. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 62. Still precisely this can hold Christian unity as one body in Christ, and develop corporate character of community. Ibid., p. 31. Jean Vanier points that Christian community formation starts when whole community begins to try to love people just as they are. Jean Vanier, Community and growth (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1979), p. 12. Such loving community attracts other people to come and taste this love. Community of fellowship should be the place where you want to come again and again.
In the same time, this “loving” background helps to build a fearless atmosphere where each person can feel himself or herself free. It is written, “There is no fear in love” (1 John 4:18). 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Once someone defined community as “the people with whom we deeply share our lives.” A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 59. However, this sharing can occur only if fear-free climate will be present in the community. Then, people can take off all their protective masks and be open to each other. Ibid., p. 66. Therefore, they can behave themselves with each other as they are in private life. Henri Nouwen says that building such fearless place should be a vocation for Christians. Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching out: the three movements of the spiritual life (Garden City, N. Y.: Image Books, 1986), p. 66. It empowers people to be open to others with all their strengths and weaknesses. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 66.
In the same time, it leads us to the aspect of acceptance others. If there is no acceptance, then community is in danger. J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 98. There are can be present different types of people and personalities. It can be persons with a very difficult and “bad” character, or people with different views and understandings. However, the practice of community formation should stimulate us to try to accept those people as well. It would be strange if in Christian communities would be present just perfect and ideal people who contain only a lot of strong qualities. Thus, an acceptance is a process of learning how to communicate with people who have attitudes which are different from ours.
Acceptance also means to value other people. Karin Granberg-Michaelson, Healing community (Geneva: WCC, 1991), p. 82. The attitude to value should be present in faith community even if those persons are not accepted from others' point of view. It really can be a challenge for many people. Here Jesus could be a very good pattern of acceptance of unacceptable people. As we can see in the Bible, He was quite often with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors whose reputation was unacceptable. A good example of it is Jesus' visit to the tax collector Zacchaeus after which people were saying, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7b). Luke 19:1-10: “He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” However, this passage also shows how an attitude of acceptance can transform people's hearts. Therefore, a community of acceptance is a community of liberation. J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 6. It is a place where people can be free from their fears of unacceptability. The community of koinonia is liberating. In view of the above considerations, it reminds that people are interdependent human beings. Ibid., p. 25. They need to have community which can help and support. This mutual sharing can be found in the fellowship of koinonia. Faith community should be “the embodiment” of koinonia monolith. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 27. From my point of view, this koinonia monolith should imply the unity within the community. Consequently, this unity can be a magnet, which will attract other people.
1.2 Shared meal
1.2.1 “The common table” in the circle: the Lord's Supper
The community of koinonia can be strengthened by the sharing meal. This koinonia is reflected and expressed in Christian sharing around “the common table” of the Lord's Supper. Ibid., p. 69. Partaking in the Lord's Supper shows the oneness of Christians as the body of Christ. This type of sharing also has a festive and joyful dimension. Keith G. Jones, A shared meal and a common table: some reflections on the Lord's Supper and Baptists (Oxford: Whitley Publications, 1999), p. 10. Reuniting of Christians in communion becomes a matter of joyful celebration; and by this faith community constitutes itself as the body of Christ. J. Wm. McClendon, Ethics, pp. 215-216. Shannon Jung characterizes the Eucharist as a performative act. Shannon L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004), p. 52. This performative act of sharing, which includes the bread and the cup of wine, was constituted by Jesus Himself. J. Wm. McClendon, Ethics, p. 215. People can get and realize the sense of koinonia unity with Christ and with other brothers and sisters by this act of communion. S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 52. In the same time, we as Christians express our thanksgiving to God and our dependence on Him, and His grace and mercy.
Here I would like to touch the issue of setting for the act of Eucharist. In Ukrainian Baptist context, people do not pay special attention to the arrangement of room for the communion. The bread and the cup of wine just pass through the church pews. However, in my opinion, it plays a crucial role and meaning. This idea has its roots in Zwingli's understanding of it. K. G. Jones, A shared meal and a common table: some reflections on the Lord's Supper and Baptists, p. 9. He has suggested that communion room should be transformed in the way that participants of koinonia could be the true witnesses of the Lord's Supper. Ibid., p. 9. This setting should show the centrality of sharing the covenantal meal. Now I would like to quote, “Zwingli planned a long table so that worshippers could sit down around the table and eat and drink together.” Ibid., p. 9.
Here I want to share one powerful witness of one Christian faith community, which decided to change their arrangement for the celebrating of the Eucharist. The church leadership suggested moving from the pattern of simple passing the bread and the cup of wine through pews to the setting on the form of circles. Tim Dickau, Plunging into the Kingdom way: practicing the shared strokes of community, hospitality, justice, and confession (Eugene, Or.: Cascade Books, 2011), p. 39. They started to invite the church members to organize themselves in small groups of people around the different tables. Then, in such arrangement they can “pray for each other or processing forward to share in a common loaf and cup.” Ibid., p. 39. This idea had a great impact on people and their spiritual transformation.
It is striking to look at the term “closed communion.” It implies that “admission to the table is restricted to members of the local church, baptized as believers by immersion… and extended only to visitors commended as similarly qualified.” J. H. Y. Briggs (ed.) et al, A Dictionary of European Baptist Life and Thought, p. 483. However, John Henson argues that such approach is “an indication of assumed superiority.” J. Henson, Other Communions of Jesus: Eating and Drinking the Good News Way, p. 40. According to my observations, such situation is wide spread among the Ukrainian Baptist communities. È. Â. Ïîäáåðåçñêèé, “Õëåáîïðåëîìëåíèå è êðåùåíèå â áîãîñëóæåáíîé ïðàêòèêå ðîññèéñêèõ ïðîòåñòàíòîâ”. I. V. Podberezskij, “The Lord's Supper and baptism in the practice of Russian Protestants.” Translation is mine. http://www.gazetaprotestant.ru/2011/04/hleboprelomlenie-i-kreschenie-v-bogosluzhebnoy-praktike-rossiyskih-protestantov/, accessed 15 April 2013. It seems as special sacred ritual only for the selected people. I have heard as many church leaders explained this by the need for protection of the sacredness of the Lord's Table. However, “Jesus does not wish and does not need to be protected… To exclude anyone who wishes to come to the Table from so doing, amounts to thinking that we are in a different category in relationship to God's grace than they are. The moment we do that, communion ceases.” J. Henson, Other Communions of Jesus: Eating and Drinking the Good News Way, p. 41.
Now I would like to turn an investigation to another angle. Here I am going to attempt to make a connection between the Eucharist and architecture. Every shape provokes in us a special kind of perception. Consequently, every architectural shape and arrangement has a big influence on our feelings and perception of the environment. According to my own observation, people in Ukrainian Baptist communities, especially among the church leadership, pay a very small attention on this big connection.
On the contrary, early Christian communities paid a special attention on “the design” for their gatherings. Gilbert Cope, Symbolism in the Bible and the church (London, SCM Press, 1959), pp. 233-245. It is striking that the room was designed in the way that all people “were literally gathered round the altar-table in an orderly and theologically sound manner: the altar-table was the immediate focus of attention on entering such a church, and the whole of the service could be seen and heard by everyone present.” Ibid., p. 245. This special arrangement has its roots in “the weekly Eucharistic meal” which early Christians had. Ibid., p. 233. This table with the Eucharistic meal can be considered as “a spiritual altar.” Ibid., p. 234. It can imply a centrality in itself around which early Christians were gathered. From my point of view, this idea of “a spiritual altar” can lead us to the much deeper consideration of what Baptist, particularly in Ukraine, really “put” in the center.
According to my own observations, many Baptist communities build their rooms for “gathering” around the pulpit. It shows the centrality of it for many of them. Gilbert Cope explains that such way of designing is an attempt to “provide for the maximum audibility of the preacher to a large congregation.” G. Cope, Symbolism in the Bible and the church, p. 239. However, Ukrainian Baptists should reconsider their main focus. It should be turned to the focus on Eucharistic liturgy and its architectural arrangement. The term “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” Ibid., p. 253. It brings the dimension of corporate relation in sharing meal on “the common table.” Cope agrees, “If our Eucharistic worship is to be experienced as a corporate action, it follows that… [communities] ought to be designed that this liturgical function is most suitably provided for.” Ibid., p. 253. From my point of view, in the context of Ukrainian Baptists this approach requires a real revision and search for the new alternatives. Faith communities should consider of what kind of message and function brings their architectural arrangement. Ukrainian Baptist communities should start to think more “architecturally” Ibid., p. 249. toward sharing meal in the Eucharistic liturgy.
In view of the above considerations, the faith communities at the Ukrainian Baptist context really need to rethink and to reanalyze their approach and understanding of the Lord's Supper. As I see, for many Christians it became simply the process of Eucharistic ritual without any meaningful attitude of united koinonia in the body of Christ. They have lost the important accents of it. I think that one of the reasons of it is that people lost the crucial meaning of sharing “extended” meal which flowing from the sharing of the covenantal meal.
Christine Pohl agrees that nowadays many faith communities have a big gap of understanding between the shared meal and the Lord's Supper. C. D. Pohl, Making room: recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition, p. 74. From the very beginning the Eucharist and the sharing agape meal goes together. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 269. It has its roots in the early Christian church's practice to gather together for sharing meal. “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). They experienced koinonia which transformed them. Contemporary liturgical theologian Hoyt Hickman said, “Whatever the Lord's Supper is, it is everything that eating is.” S. L. Jung, Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment, p. 130. The act of communion implies the meal which has “the nourishing character.” S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 26. Without this extended sharing meal it is difficult to get whole meaning of the Eucharist. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 269. It should be a real supper around “the common table”, supper of fellowship which unites people around Christ. Still, the process and ritual of eating and drinking together is “glue” for creating community.
1.2.2 Implication of “the common table”
As it was mentioned before, McClendon refers to the meal as an important part of the practice of community formation. The community of koinonia should be a sharing community. Ibid., p. 58. It means also that Christians' relational commitments should be not only on an inner level, but it must be expressed visibly to the other people. The practice of sharing meal reflects and expresses the reality and meaning of the Kingdom of God. C. D. Pohl, Making room: recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition, p. 30. Shannon defines food as “a generator” of community of fellowship. S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 49. Sharing food with somebody is initial and basic act which socializes people as human beings. S. L. Jung, Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment, p. 40. Sharing food is a central practice of every nation, because people cannot live without food, without nourishing themselves and others. Eating and drinking is “a communal experience.” S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 123. When food is eating and drinking in community of people it implies special meaning. It shows a genuine sense of togetherness, unity, and communion. Antonio Donghi, Words and Gestures in the Liturgy (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2009), p. 61. People can feel united themselves with each other by eating together. Common table of sharing expresses a desire to be together. In light of these considerations, it seems clear that meal and sharing meal has its relational dimension. S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 48.
Shared food sustains and nourishes not only our bodies, but also our relationships with each other. It can create and sustain new relationships as well. When people are eating or drinking together, it shows that they are all, first of all, accepted in that community; secondly, it expresses mutuality within this group of people. As Pohl points out, food has “a profoundly egalitarian dimension.” C. D. Pohl, Making room: recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition, p. 74. Following this statement, “the common table” of the Lord's Supper can include everyone; everyone can partake in it. “The common table” excludes any difference between people. For “the common table” it does not matter what is person's background. All participants of “the common table” are equal. Henson says that “the common table” is also “a celebration of the physical.” J. Henson, Other Communions of Jesus: Eating and Drinking the Good News Way, p. 115. The bread and the wine which are used for the Eucharist are the physical things. Nevertheless, they play the role of witnesses of Jesus Christ. Ibid., p. 115. It shows that “the sacramental depends on the physical.” Ibid., p. 115.
Food makes a connection between people. When we are sharing our food and eating together, it reveals our interdependence. Sometimes we depend on others, who can give us some food. Sometimes we depend on those who can grow and planted the food on our tables. S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 48. Sometimes we depend on those people who can cook it for us. Consequently, meal shows mutuality between human beings in need for food. Sharing meal also implies a dimension of joy. When people are eating or drinking they do not share only with food, but also they share in joy. J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 238. They are celebrating the presence of each other. However, from my point of view, this joy of presence also implies the presence of peace within participants of common dinner. Being around “the common table” can speak about the quality of relationships. People, between whom their relationships are broken, cannot sit at the one table. Therefore, I think that it reveal another aspect of sharing meal that “the common table” can be a healing place for broken relationships. Then people, who are sitting at “the common table,” use a trajectory of moving from isolation to the extended relationships in the united community of koinonia. T. Dickau, Plunging into the Kingdom way: practicing the shared strokes of community, hospitality, justice, and confession, p. 40.
In the same time, sharing meal breaks the boundaries which people make between themselves. Here I would like to refer to Jesus' example. His attitude was to accept all of people; even those who are seem as “unacceptable”. In the course of His ministry Jesus spent a lot of time by eating and drinking with such “unacceptable” people. There is also a powerful example of Peter which written in the book of Acts 10-11. It is a powerful story about “the common table” between the apostle Peter and the gentile Cornelius. Peter said, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person… unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:28-29). Therefore, “the common table” of sharing meal means hospitality and acceptance of every person.
As it was mention before, meal has in itself a performative character. S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 51. Sharing meal is a gesture. It is also a type of non-verbal communication. “Even the simple gesture of passing the potatoes is a natural moment of communication which can bring people out of their isolation. They cannot remain behind the barriers of their depression when they have to ask for the salt. The need for food encourages communication.” J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 239.
In view of the above considerations, there is an important meaning of food in the people's lives in different aspects. However, such considerations are quite new and “exotic” for Ukrainian Baptist context. Nevertheless, from my point of view, the Ukrainian Christian communities should rethink and redefine the meaning of a meal. Here I would like to make a special reference to the faith community, to which I was belonging, as I said before, more than 17 years. As I remember, “the common table” was happening often in the beginning of the existence of this community. However, then the quantity of it went down very fast. Now, I see the connection between spiritual condition and growth of the church members and the time which was spending together around the sharing meal. Now the faith community is shrinking and dying slowly.
Therefore, my opinion is that “the common table,” the practice of sharing meal could be very good treatment of its spiritual health. It could be a really refreshing approach for the community. “The common table” could strengthen interpersonal relationships within the community. Sharing food could become joyful moments of presence each other. I think that the faith communities should learn to celebrate the presence of other people, does not matter “insiders” or “outsiders” of that community. It leads to an idea of the church as “a dinner”. Òèì, ×åñòåð, “Öåðêîâü êàê Îáåä!” Tim, Chester, “The Church as a Lunch!” Translation is mine. http://simplechurch.com.ua/ru/stati/principy-prostyh-cerkvej/432-cerkov-kak-obed.html, accessed 16 April 2013. This image implies that a dinner of whole community should be an important and central moment in community's life. Consequently, the meaning of common food needs to be reclaimed and redefined. From my point of view, this practice could revive, refresh, and reborn this particular Ukrainian faith community. This Christian community should become “a table of welcome,” which will welcome everyone who comes.
In light of these considerations, I also would like to discuss what the relationship should be between a meal and the Eucharist. Should “the common table” be the context of the Lord's Supper or the two is separated? From my point of view, from the sharing of the communal bread and wine flows the sharing of the meal in its extended understanding. It should develop into the experience of the whole community. As it was mentioned before, food brings in itself performative character. S. L. Jung, Food for life: the spirituality and ethics of eating, p. 51. This performative act brings the aspect of togetherness and unity between people, which flows from the act of the Lord's Supper. However, from my point of view, Ukrainian Baptists lost this link between the Eucharist and sharing meal as a communal experience.
On the contrary, for the early Christians this connection was very crucial. At the beginning Christian services were mostly domestic; consequently, the room was “furnished with a D-shaped low table around which guests reclined to eat.” G. Cope, Symbolism in the Bible and the church, p. 235. Therefore, Ukrainian faith communities should consider the application of this experience to their lives. Cope, referring to the early Christian communities, points out that “from the Eucharistic communion in which only a small token quantity of the ritually offered bread and wine was consumed by the believers, while the `real meal' was continued as a separated function.” G. Cope, Symbolism in the Bible and the church, p. 234. I think that the application of this link between the Lord's Supper and sharing meal can bring real refreshment in the communities' spiritual growth and development in Ukrainian context.
1.3 Sharing ourselves
1.3.1 Intentional availability
I mentioned already that people are interdependent human beings. They cannot be without a community of other people. They really need to share something with someone. David McCarthy defines the practicing of sharing as “a basic grammar of common life.” David Matzko McCarthy, Sex and love in the home (London: SCM, 2004), p. 95. Shannon calls it “a school of sociability.” S. L. Jung, Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment, p. 42. It is really essential aspect of our being as human beings. From the theological point of view, our sharing as Christians makes the Kingdom of God visible for this world. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 61. Thus, sharing is essential aspect us not just as human beings, but also as Christians. It is difficult to imagine how the Holy Spirit will move people to the unity in koinonia, if they would not share with each other. Therefore, here I would like first of all to consider about the nature of sharing itself.
The real sharing in community implies our openness toward other people. J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 210. It means the sharing ourselves with others, or revealing our strengths and weaknesses to other people. This is the meaning of koinonia which characterizes by knowing others and, in the same time, be known by other people. A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 65. This openness also should be extended to those who are outside of community. I think that people rather prefer to isolate their interior than to open it. Therefore, this sharing requires our willingness for self-disclosing and being ready to be changed. Ibid., p. 66. It takes sometimes a lot of time to manage this transition from the stage of “the community for myself” to the level of “myself for the community.” J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 10. It requires dedicated discipline for it. Mary Francis, Mother, But I have called you friends: reflections on the art of Christian friendship (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006), p. 78. However, precisely this attitude can make us as the whole persons. Thomas E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2008), p. 131. To share ourselves, to open ourselves toward others is the most precious gift which you can give to people. Bill Donahue, Building a church of small groups: a place where nobody stands alone (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), p. 62. This gift involves us in storytelling. People reveal their story of their lives. Then, seeing the open souls of others, we become to know each other in a deeper level. It also helps us to learn how to love other people who have different stories from ours. Ibid., p. 62.
However, somebody can ask, “But how can the person become an open to others? What is the process of it?” I think that the first and starting point is to be open to God. Here I would like to quote from the Rule of Northumbria Community The Northumbria Community describes a network of hugely diverse people, from different backgrounds, streams and edges of the Christian faith. Inspired by, drawing from, and living in the spiritual tradition of monasticism, the Community is geographically dispersed and strongly ecumenical but with an identity rooted in the history and spiritual heritage of Celtic Northumbria. http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/who-we-are, accessed 17 April 2013. that an openness to God should be “in the cell of our own heart when we can be turned towards Him, and seek His face.” Northumbria Community, A way for living: introducing the rule of the Northumbria Community (Chatton, UK: Northumbria Community, 2003), p. 3. Here there is logic. If people will be more open to God, they will show more openness toward others. M. Francis, But I have called you friends: reflections on the art of Christian friendship, p. 73. Availability says, “I will be there for you,” and keeps this process continuing. T. E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, p. 125. People in availability commit themselves to be with someone, and really participate in the life of that person. “With” is a key of availability. Ibid., p. 126. As I said before, still it is hard process. Therefore, I think that first of all we need to start our “open” sharing with our brothers and sisters. If it will happen, then it will overflow into wider context of the society which is outside of the faith community.
For the achievement of this openness of ourselves, people need to overcome many barriers. I have heard often when people in some Ukrainian Baptist communities said, “We need to be closed from this sinful world;” and in this case they usually are referring to the passage from 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 where it is written, “What fellowship has light with darkness?.. Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?.. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-17: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you.” Many Christians often try to build these protective walls from outward world. http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=98672, accessed 18 April 2013. However, Jean Vanier points out that the Christian communities should manage to be apart from this world, but in the same time trying to keep them open to this world. J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 75. It means that faith communities need to keep their Christian values and do not identify themselves with this world. However, still be open to “outsiders” and try to realize the true values which can exist in the society. Ibid., p. 75.
Vanier also argues that those Christians who do not see this are incapable of listening to others. Ibid., p. 100. They hold strongly the ancient presupposition, “All other people are wrong, just I am right.” I have heard recently as a church leader of one Ukrainian community said, “Now we are going to build the holy church and nothing and nobody `unclean' will not come in this place.” I was wondering how this faith community understands its mission in this world. Here I again want to quote from the Northumbria Community's Rule which proclaims, “Do not build walls for the non-Christian to climb over.” Northumbria Community, A way for living: introducing the rule of the Northumbria Community, p. 21. I think that first Christians should overcome those walls and barriers that “outsiders” could come freely into the community of fellowship. When faith communities will make themselves open, then others will know truly what the Christians values are. In the light of these considerations, I think that Christian's community especially in Baptist context in Ukraine should rediscover and redefine the meaning of availability. From my point of view, availability can be only intentional, because without the willingness people never can be available to others. I like the definition of availability by Thomas Reynolds. It is “an aptitude to give oneself to anything… and to bind oneself by the gift.” T. E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, p. 124. It implies that we should give ourselves as gift of availability for others. It is risky. However, it is precisely what the concept of sharing ourselves requires.
To be available is a very good quality of true friendship. However, the word “friend” or “friendship” quite often is used by some people as a label almost to everyone who are not their enemies. James Muriel, The Heart of Friendship (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1976), p. 6. Nowadays a good example of “labeling friends” is the Facebook. Today many people have on their profiles a lot of other people who called as “friends.” However, there is no guarantee that they have strong friendships with many of them. From my point of view, the networks as the Facebook, or the Contact (Êîíòàêò), the Russian one, give to people a big opportunity to extend their acquaintanceship with other people; but, in the same time, they have a big influence on blurring a definition of true friendship. Gregory Jones would agree that social networks like Facebook or Contact (Êîíòàêò), the Russian one, are important and give people an opportunity to amplify their acquaintanceship with other people; however he says that “Facebook friends and social networking are not adequate substitutes for authentic friendship.” Gregory L. Jones, `My Facebook friends,' Christian Century, (July 15, 2008), p. 35. Then he continues, “We may have multiple social networks and thousands of acquaintances and still find ourselves profoundly lonely.” Ibid., p. 35.
Therefore, who can people call as friends? I like this definition of friendship - “a friend is a person with whom I may be sincere.” J. Muriel, The Heart of Friendship, p. 5. Precisely to such person people can be truly open, and they can share with him or her everything what they have in their hearts. Only from true friends we can hear about the sides of our life about which we do not really prefer to talk. Sometimes friends can know us better than we know ourselves. The true friends are not like “friends” on the Facebook who are online just from time to time. The true friends are always “online” for us. Their availability is a continuing process. It is a great gift which people can receive. This type of friendship an help us to live truthfully and hopefully. Paul J. Wadell, Becoming friends: worship, justice, and the practice of Christian friendship (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002), p. 73. I think that only for such type of relationships the term “friend” needs to be reserved. Eugene C. Kennedy, On Being a Friend (New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1982), p. 102.
As it was reflected before, the sharing of ourselves means to reveal ourselves toward other people. In other words, it requires openness. However, in the same time, it does not imply a total openness and total revealing. J. Vanier, Community and growth, p. 210. All people can have some secrets which can be revealed only to God. Consequently, it leads to the understanding of “closedness” in relationships. H. J. M. Nouwen, Reaching out: the three movements of the spiritual life, p. 31. It implies keeping someone's secrets. The revealing someone's secrets can break strongly relationships between people. This closedness requires mutual protection of other person. Then, this closedness will lead to more openness. Therefore, we need to keep the intimate mystery of friendship between each other. Ibid., p. 31.
As it was mentioned above, the openness requires mutuality, because sharing is not just giving over and over again. It is also receiving. Openness and sharing is, as Arthur Gish defines, “a two-way experience.” A. G. Gish, Living in Christian community, p. 67. It leads to the virtue of reciprocity. D. M. McCarthy, Sex and love in the home, p. 133. Here I would like to refer to McCarthy's thoughts. He calls reciprocity as “a habit of how we are disposed toward the good from others, the good for others, and the goods of life.” D. M. McCarthy, Sex and love in the home, p. 133. The concept of reciprocity also draws a special attention to the act of “receiving.” I think that everyone knows that if he or she will practice sharing just by giving without any receiving something back, he or she will be burnt out and exhausted. Then, that person simple will not be able to give something else. Therefore, receiving should be present in the social relationships between people.
However, in the same time, reciprocity is not the method of exchange, or it is not a payback. Ibid., p. 135. McCarthy argues that the virtue of reciprocity has deal not with a payback, but more with our disposition “to do the good in terms of what and how we receive.” Ibid., p. 134. It points more on our inner motives. Reciprocity is not just the method which we can use, but it should be more as our attitude toward people. It is a gift which creates the mutuality between people. This mutuality to give and mutuality to receive should be on an equal level.
Another interesting aspect is how this reciprocity is working between people and God. Through the biblical passages it is clear that the love of God is not motivated by people's own goodness. His love is unconditional. Therefore, it leads to the understanding that God's love is not based on mutuality, but it is unilateral. Ibid., p. 141. The love of God shows strongly the aspect of “giving”. McCarthy points out that such kind of love can justify altruism. Ibid., p. 141. It means just to love without any expectation of return.
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