I recently completed a book entitled The Band That Played On, by Steve Turner. It’s a well-researched account of the musicians who lost their lives aboard the Titanic.
As Turner recounts the past life of the band leader, Wallace Hartley and his roots in Colne, mention is made of John Wesley’s visits to that region and in particular Lancashire and Colne, notoriously known for its tough and violent reputation.
Turner goes on to describe the impact Wesley had on this community. “Wesley believed in evangelizing in the open air and he relentlessly traveled across Britain on horseback, preaching the gospel to those who would never enter a place of worship. His approach outraged traditional churchmen who believed it degraded preaching and removed the mystery and splendor from religion. George White, the vicar of Colne, was a vociferous opponent of Wesley and would organize drunken mobs to attack him when he visited the area. One of Wesley’s helpers was even thrown to his death off a bridge.” [i]
Not exactly a safe community full of spiritual companions I would say. But Turner goes on to explain the long-term implications of preaching the gospel to the unsaved and the movement that would come from Wesley’s determination to create a safe place steeped in faith in God and family. He did just that. It spurned a revival that is famous to this very day, known as The Great Awakening.
When his teaching was gripped by a community it had observable social effects because Wesley taught the followers of Christ to be thrifty, charitable, sober, honest, and concerned with developing their minds and bodies as well as their souls. The result was an increase in schools, music groups, orchestras, and benevolent societies, and a decrease in wasteful drunkenness, violence, poverty, and ignorance as Turner recounts. Folks believed not only in personal salvation but also in holiness, self-improvement, and charity. Communities became more law abiding and better educated. Husbands became more responsible. Workers became more eager to learn.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Community matters. God’s safe community with spiritual companions’ matter.
Consider the Trinity. The triune nature of God. One might argue the perfect representation of spiritual companionship – the three-in-one – when the creation story was revealed in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make manin our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” (ESV emphasis added) God in community with Himself. What better representation is there than serving each other as the Trinity served each other? Love abounding in immeasurable ways in creation and our own unique stories. The Our, depicted in Genesis 1, is just the way God intended it. In community with one another helping to navigate the treacherous waters of life.
“The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms,” writes Desmond Tutu. He continues, “We are made for complementarity. We are created for a delicate network of relationships, of interdependence with our fellow human beings… We belong in one family – God’s family, the human family… the greatest good is communal harmony.”
When I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life, after a separation from my then wife of 35 years, a dear friend of mine called every morning and left a message on my cell phone that included a prayer of encouragement and hope of restoration. He would tell me to let it go to voicemail and play it when I needed to hear it most. It went on for months. The epitome of a safe person, with a heart for God and heart for me when I needed it most.
Day in and day out I dealt with uncertainty, fear of the unknown, and a kind of hopelessness at times that saw no end. Many men, not just Eric, came around me, encouraged me, prayed for me, and just listened. Always pointing me to Jesus. That’s the key.
[i] Steve Turner, The Band That Played On, p35