‘The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.’ (Acts 2:43)
That is what justifiably, one would term unity in community! …… I wonder how long such unity lasted among these early ‘Faith’ communities. I suspect that in a small community it may have lasted until the money ran out, or the numbers started reducing either through death or members leaving, but some survived, not necessarily in the same format, but in other practical ways. Whatever the case, it was through the efforts of those early communities that a fledgling Church anchored its roots in the minds and hearts of many people, and although some may have watched from a distance, perhaps being a little wary of joining something new, at least they were witnesses to the good being done. During my lifetime there have been many examples of small groups living in community or communes, sharing what they have in common. The earliest I can remember were the ‘Hippies’ in the 1960’s, but more recently there have been groups which are more ‘eco-centric’ ,creating places in which to live and work, proving that one can live and maintain a civilized life-style without adding more pollution to an already over-polluted world.
There are other groups which are formed to protect and care for the less able members of our society, some religious, others not, but such groups highlight a human instinct to protect the vulnerable, so that their lives may be sheltered from harm while at the same time providing an environment which recognises the dignity of their humanity.
One such group is based in Shepton Mallet, thirteen miles from Wincanton. It was set up by Tobias Jones and his wife Francesca about ten years ago with the sole purpose - to quote Tobias –‘of offering refuge to people going through a period of crisis in their lives’ he adds ‘We hoped to emulate a community we knew down in Dorset, a place that was a haven for those struggling with addiction, bereavement, separation, depression, penury, eating disorders, homelessness, PTSD and all the other ailments, illnesses and misfortunes that beset us in life.’
During the first five years of their experiment in communal living they experienced many mishaps, but also miracles. To quote Tobias again; he says ‘Those [first five years] were gruelling, exhilarating, exhausting, uplifting, exciting, depressing, joyful, rewarding and, always eye-opening. The learning curve has been so steep’ he writes’ that it has often seemed almost vertical.’ That Tobias and Francesca persevered is a credit not only to their courage and determination, but to their belief in the necessity of their endeavour. [A Place of Refuge: An experiment in Communal living; The story of Windsor Hill Wood: Quercus Editions Ltd 2015. PB ISBN 978 1 84866 251 3]
I suspect that the community St Luke describes in the Acts of the Apostles must have had similar joys and disappointments, but through their perseverance, the work they were engaged in made a deep impression on everyone who witnessed their selflessness in the same way that the efforts of Tobias and Francesca have made such a great impression on the people of Shepton Mallet.
The basic community as we all know, is that of the family, and the joys and tribulations of family life mirror that of any community, large or small. As a faith community, our parish community continues to demonstrate the empathy and compassion; that instinct to ‘do something’ for those who need help during the current virus crisis.
What is gratifying is witnessing how communities intermingle and over recent years, the developing relationship between Parish and school is a prime example. Such relationships are based on trust, and in time that confidence and ethos have a growing influence on the wider community. It is unavoidable that communities are constantly under the microscope, but when they are seen to be working for the common good, people from all walks of life take a greater pride [in the best possible sense] in the area they live. An open-door policy and an open-heart policy are proof of a caring society, and in the current Covid-19 climate visible proof of a caring community is plentiful.
Sunday’s gospel [John 20:19-31] introduces another human emotion; …… fear! Humour is infectious and so is fear. Where was the leadership in the room where the disciples were gathered? The disciples hadn’t considered the prospect of a resurrected Jesus until Jesus “stood in the midst of them.” It was only when Jesus ‘breathed on them’ and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit that their courage returned to them.
Fear has become a companion to any number of people in many countries throughout the world during recent months. I hazard a guess to say that it is the fear of death which is the primary cause, but there are other reasons which have conditioned our personal reactions towards the emotion of fear. So, it’s story-time again, a story about fear, and every word expresses the truth.
One of the disciplinary phrases from my childhood [considering I was always well behaved] was ‘If you don’t behave I’ll fetch a policeman!’ My mother used it so regularly that I considered it more akin to a motherly affliction than a reprimand. Anyway, it didn’t prevent my being allowed to attend school, which was a bit of a shame. The school was a convent school near Kenilworth [St Joseph’s , Crackley Hall] and was under the care and protection of the Sisters of Mercy – or ‘Murphy’ as the order became known. I can’t remember much about the first year – Kindergarten – as I was probably asleep for most of the time, but it would appear that I squeezed out of my Chrysalis by the time I was allowed into Transition! Transformation by metamorphosis.
Our form teacher was Sr Margaret Mary, who was the most perfect nun, or so I thought, until one day there was a crisis, and this crisis directed me along the path to self-preservation. The class was settling itself down after dinner [as it was called then] when Sr Margaret Mary called us to attention. Then she asked a girl [I can’t recall her name, but for the sake of clarity I’ll call her Jane] to come to the front of the class, and then Sr Margaret Mary spoke in a very authoritative tone. ‘Someone has stolen one of Jane’s sandals’ she said, ‘and I want the culprit to own up and return it to Jane.’
Silence was the culprit, as not a word was said. Fear and horror throughout the class had set like jelly; I was shaking as I’m convinced so were the rest of the class. After a few moments, which seemed an eternity, Sr Margaret Mary raised the threat by saying that unless the thief owned up, our parents would be informed, and they would be asked to remove us from school. I’m not sure whether that threat made any impression on the class, it certainly didn’t on me, but the next threat was the killer. ‘Unless the culprit owns up’ said a very stern Sr Margaret Mary, ‘I will fetch the police!’
That was it! I was so conditioned of the threat of a policeman coming to arrest me, that instinctively my right arm shot up at such a speed it jolly nearly dislocated itself from my shoulder. ‘Come and show us where you have put it’ said a very stern Sr Margaret Mary.
What a predicament! I hadn’t taken her silly sandal, so where on earth was I going to look. If I couldn’t find the thing, what was I to do then! Instinctively I went downstairs to the basement followed by Jane and Sr. Margaret Mary, I entered the locker room where each child had a locker above which was a clothes peg: I went to the first locker on the right, lifted the lid, saw a sandal inside, picked it up, and said ‘Is this the sandal?’ …. You’ve guessed it! It was! In hindsight, I think that the locker was Jane’s locker, because nothing was said. The police weren’t called, and as far as I know my parents weren’t informed either.
The community of disciples were hiding out of fear until Jesus came among them and breathed on them the gift of the Holy Spirit to get them out of their paralysis. When I was practically paralysed with fear, I wasn’t aware of Jesus bailing me out of my predicament, but then, Jesus knew my mother and he obviously considered that the training I had received from her up to that time in my life was all I needed. I wouldn’t argue with Jesus, but then I wouldn’t argue with my mother either.
Louis the sandal seeker.