Thursday, August 31, 2023



TL:DR everybody needs a community they can’t bear not to meet up with.

The apostle Paul and his companions planted churches around the eastern Mediterranean. The first churches they planted in Europe were in Philippi (in the north of modern Greece). On coming to a new city, it was Paul’s usual practice to first seek out the Jewish diaspora community, those with whom he shared a common background. There was no recognised Jewish community in Philippi (not enough Jewish men to form a synagogue), so Paul sought out ‘God-fearers’—Greeks who were drawn to worship the Jewish god at prayer by the river, and from there the first European church was established in the household of a businesswoman called Lydia. But Paul’s activity caused civil unrest, resulting in his being beaten and imprisoned—which led to the establishment of a second house-church led by the officer responsible for the city jailhouse. When it came to light that Paul was a Roman citizen—and as such should not have been beaten or imprisoned without trial—he was asked to leave quietly…

They moved along the coast to Thessalonica. There, there was a Jewish community, but they were not very receptive to Paul’s message. The local Greeks were much more receptive, and a church planted; but the Jewish community were unhappy, and provoked civil unrest, forcing Paul to move on yet again, after little more than three weeks there. They headed on to Berea, and there the local Jewish community were much more receptive. Yet another church was established; but when news reached the synagogue back in Thessalonica, they sent a delegation to incite trouble for Paul in Berea. Yet again he and his companions moved on, this time travelling south, as far as Athens.

At this point, Paul becomes increasingly concerned for his new friends in Thessalonica, from whom he was parted so quickly. So, he sends his friend and co-worker Timothy back north to them. On returning to Athens, Timothy discovers that Paul has himself moved on again, this time to Corinth, where Timothy catches him up, and is able to deliver good news. The church in Thessalonica is doing well, they long to see Paul again as much as he longs to see them. For Paul, for whom being apart from these new friends and fellow-believers was death, this news fills him with joy, makes him feel alive again.

We read an extract from the letter he wrote them (1 Thessalonians 3:7-13) at our mid-week Communion today. And it really was a joy to me to have, among the congregation, two friends visiting from our neighbouring church Sunderland Minster, and an elderly member of the St Nicholas’ congregation who had not made it out to be with us for a long time following a fall and loss of confidence.

I wonder whether this is how we think of church. Whether the days between when we gather together feel like death. Whether we long to see those people, and whether seeing them is a joy. Or whether we who are able to meet regularly come to take one another for granted. Whether we have forgotten how good it was to be able to meet together after the deprivation of lockdowns, and whether we hold in mind those who can no longer join us due to infirmity.

Everyone needs a community that causes us to feel like Paul did in relation to the church at Thessalonica. Who knows, it could even be a church.


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