"Is the church family looking after you?"
This is what Robin asked Rosemary on the Sunday after surgery that put me out of action as Alexander’s carer for a couple of weeks. It was such an encouragement to be able to answer ‘Yes, definitely’; and this is our opportunity to say thank you to the church family who participated in a meal rota, did our washing, and came round to help with Alexander’s complicated evening routine while I was recovering. The care of the church family has left us with many positive reflections and hopefully, encouragements for everyone at Emmanuel.
I guess that Robin will have been particularly encouraged by our answer because the ideal model is for the church family to look after each other. Acts 4: 32–35 describes a wonderful situation where no believer in the early New Testament church was in need, with possessions being shared because ‘all the believers were one in heart and mind.’ Of course, our situation following my operation was different from the Acts setting, but being united in Christ as a church family hopefully makes us one in heart and mind, and that unity will surely have inspired many of you to help us. It’s a beautiful thing to receive this type of ‘one heart and mind’ love.
One of my favourite studies at Bible college focused on an English Puritan church leader in the 1600s called Richard Baxter. He wrote a mighty work called ‘The Reformed Pastor’ where he listed hundreds of duties of a church leader, including visiting and supporting the congregation. I marvelled at his commitment, but concluded that in our current age, it’s simply not feasible or appropriate for the staff team in a church to do all the caring. We need those in the church family who are able, to support one another ‘in one heart and mind.’ And that is what many of you did for us, staff team and congregation alike.
As church family member after church family member came through our door to drop off a meal, to help with Alexander, or to pick up or drop off a load of washing, we would offer heartfelt thanks. Invariably the response was something like ‘it was nothing, honestly.’ I’m sure that such sentiments were borne out of Christian love; but I wonder too if it was because many people helping practically means that the load is shared. This reminded Rosemary and I about contributing to a couple of recent Emmanuel meal rotas, and sure enough, it really didn’t feel like a lot. Now we really understand how ‘many hands make light work’ as well as the encouragement of seeing the practical and prayer support of many in the church family.
I had plenty of time to reflect during my time recovering on the sofa, for example how impressed my unbelieving friends and colleagues were when I told them about the support of the church family, and the opportunity to mention church life. But I have one final thought. As a family, we had to be prepared to open up to the church family to say that we needed help; and we needed to be prepared to receive it graciously. I’d like to suggest that ‘being of one heart and mind’ not only involves a willingness to support others at Emmanuel; but it also requires those of us who may be struggling to ask for and accept help. So can I ask you - would you ask for help from the church family if you needed it? How do you feel about accepting offers of help? I think I’ve learned that there should be no pride, no ‘front’ and no unhelpful stoicism with the church family. If we are all willing to give and receive support to each other, this helps us to be ‘one in heart and mind.’
‘Is the church family looking after you?’ Yes, Robin – please be encouraged!