I really have a problem with the f-word.
I only ever hear it in Christian contexts, and it makes me grind my teeth every time. If I had my way, every use of it would warrant a £1 coin being placed in a penalty jar, and then every month we could all go out for cake or make a donation to charity or something lovely like that.
Fellowship. I’m getting sweaty palms just typing it. To a millennial such as myself, I associate the word with either one of two things:
- Brain surgeons, as depicted by medical TV dramas (‘You should totally go for that Neurology Fellowship, Doctor Berry…’)
In a Christian context, ‘fellowship’ instantly makes me think of avocado-coloured jumpers, beards, biscuits, and milky tea that for some reason is only served in green china cups. The church I grew up in hosted a monthly ‘Fellowship Tea’ – so, if I dig a little deeper, I think of quiche, salt and vinegar crisps, and orange squash.
So when Wendy’s raving about the lovely ‘fun, food and fellowship’ she enjoyed at the ladies’ meeting – and, in fact, when anyone uses the f-word – my brain visits all these places at once. It’s a sensory overload.
Forgive my cynicism – it’s just that I feel pretty strongly about the ways in which we communicate our faith to the outside world. Using weird words that other people don’t isn’t usually helpful. People are watching. People are listening. And even if they act completely opposite, I find that most people actually want to understand what we’re on about when we think that words like ‘fellowship’, ‘repent’, ‘tambourine’ etc are all perfectly normal in everyday conversation.
So, bear with me as I face my hang-ups about this word ‘fellowship’ (*shudder*). I’m not saying we should try to re-introduce it into twenty-first-century vocabulary, but I have been thinking about what it actually means.
The NIV uses the f-word in its translation of Acts 2:42:
‘They devoted themselves… to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’
Food and prayer. I can do both of those things. So far, so good.
My trusty dictionary (Google) tells me that fellowship is
‘friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.’
Doesn’t sound too painful. No mention of quiche or surgeons or hobbits. The first word is ‘friendly’ – not ‘religious’. Interesting. I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus is pretty interesting. So, in theory, spending time with other people who also think that Jesus is interesting ought to make for an interesting time. And for goodness’ sake, we should be friendly about it. With me so far?
Jesus is what we have in common. ‘Fellowship’, therefore, is ignoring all the stupid little things that so often divide us. We’re all friends here, because JESUS. And in collecting my thoughts on this, it’s slowly dawning on me that my weekly small group gets together for one key thing: fellowship.
OK – so, fellowship and small groups. The more I break this down, the more synonymous they seem.
Both actively require meeting with other people to focus on the Person who’s brought us together in the first place. We have some bizarre, holy bond because of our common interest in Him. It doesn’t matter about the (possibly terrible) music, or the quality of coffee (though that actually matters a great deal to me). The social barriers become obsolete. So when Wendy’s raving about the wonderful fellowship, what she actually means is that she and her friends had a cracking meal and enjoyed hanging out because their friendship operates on a deeper level, what with it being held together by their mutual love of the Saviour of humanity and all that.
Because of the ‘fellowship’ of my small group, I meet weekly with people who – in all honesty – I very much doubt I’d have bothered getting to know otherwise. They are brilliant people of different spheres and backgrounds and careers and ages and circumstance. Most of them are nothing like me. I think that’s the best part. But we can open up and chat about real stuff and pray about things that matter because there’s this other guy in the room too, and His name’s Jesus, and He likes that sort of thing.
So just in case our friends and colleagues – the ones who aren’t well-versed in Christianese – are equally baffled by the concept of ‘fellowship’ and mental images of scalpel-wielding hobbits, I’m wondering how we could explain this brilliant next-level-friendship-thing that Christianity offers. And I’m still wondering, which means I don’t have a nice, shiny conclusion to present to you. But let’s at least think about what it is we’re saying when we drop the f-word into conversation – and the next time you hear it, I hope it brings a smile to your face.
About Rebecca Berry
Rebecca (Bex) is the acting Lead Editor at CWR. She and her husband have run a small group at their church, Emmaus Road Guildford, for over three years. She loves pie of all kinds.