Yesterday, we had the chance to listen to the delayed message by the incoming president of our church, and it is easy to see in retrospect why it was that the Home Office wanted us all to listen to the message. It was a subtle example of how to provide marching orders as well as to give a reason why it is that he was able to so quickly gain a majority of ministers within the Council of Elders supporting him. One thing I noticed and was particularly interested in was his reference to the acceptable service of membership as including attendance. Now, attendance has at least two meanings, but the meaning of attendance referring to the service that an attendant does depends on the attendant being present. Our service depends on our availability and our presence in some fashion. This was a very clever point to make, and I was impressed to see that kind of dual meaning implied, as a way of properly hinting that for us to do our acceptable service to God and to others that we must first be present in the lives of others as well as in institutions. We cannot fulfill our duties if we are not present in the places where those duties are done. This hints at further discussion of the importance of that fellowship, especially in dangerous times like our own.
It is interesting as well to contrast this discussion with the discussion that has been taking place with regards to the current Speaker of the House, who has been denied communion as a result of her steadfast support of abortion, which is a mortal sin according to the Roman Catholic Church. It is always intriguing to see the response that people have to churches undertaking their authority to deny fellowship and communion to people as a result of their sins. After all, churches have the authority to deny or accept fellowship to anyone they want to on their terms. That is a right that all groups have–to decide who to allow in and who not to. There is, to be sure, a certain amount of pain that comes with social rejection, but whether or not we appreciate being rejected, groups have the right to decide who represents them well and who does not. To the extent that such judgments are merely social in nature, the freedom of association includes with it the freedom to deny association to people on whatever grounds suits them. In this case, the current Speaker of the Houe has obviously promoted behavior that is (properly) judged by the Roman Catholic Church to be a mortal sin and the church and its officers have the right to deny communion on those grounds. To the extent that a church’s decision has value, when that denial is made for what are obviously just and reasonable grounds, it ought to lead us to reflect on our behavior whether or not we are living in accordance with our professed beliefs or not.
Fellowship is an important aspect of life. Fellowship can come on many grounds. For example, I yesterday I had several conversations with one of my fellow members of the congregation where I attend, and it was funny to reflect upon several of the ways in which the grounds of fellowship could be found. For one, we both arrived and left services at the same time, having both been stuck in the same traffic (which itself as a source of friendly conversation, since we both wondered what possessed ODOT to close two lanes of traffic on US 26 in the middle of the day to pave lanes around OR-217). Later conversations involved his new job, our shared struggle with gout and how it affects our mobility, and the subject of education, and even mutual friends that we had from a previous place where both lived. One of the joys of fellowship is recognizing that one has a lot in common with other people, and that recognition of commonality depends on being able to reach out and communicate with others and the comfort to both be oneself and the interest in others to seek out how others are. Even in a time like our own, there is a great deal of worth in fellowship, not least when we consider how isolating our times can otherwise be.