Fellowship is life – Minister’s Reflection 21/1/24

In 1998 I moved to Walthamstow in East London, and I went on to live there for about 12 years. While I was there, I became aware of one of the great names of Walthamstow: William Morris. William Morris lived in Walthamstow as a teenager and his family home, Water House, has been a museum exhibiting his work since 1950. It’s now called William Morris House and it is a big deal in Walthamstow and residents of Walthamstow are very proud of William Morris with school children taught about him from an early age.

Around the time I moved into Walthamstow the William Morris House and gardens had a major makeover and a huge banner was put on the surrounding railings with the words “fellowship is life” written on it. When I first saw the words, I didn’t really understand the meaning, and wondered if they might better read “fellowship is for life” – for I thought it was about how fellowship was something that we needed to make throughout our lifetime. In the same vein as “a dog if for life, not just for Christmas” I thought it was meant to mean “fellowship is for life, not just when you feel like it”. But in time, I have come to understand the depth of what William Morris was saying.

The words “fellowship is life” come from his book “The Dream of John Ball”. In this book John Ball is a radical priest, and the words are found in a sermon preached at a memorial for those who have fallen in a struggle against the powerful of the day: “Forsooth, brethren, fellowship is heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell: fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death: and the deeds that ye do upon the earth, it is for fellowship’s sake that ye do them, and the life that is in it, that shall live on and on for ever, and each one of you part of it, while many a man’s life upon the earth from the earth shall wane. Therefore I bid you not dwell in hell but in heaven, or while ye must, upon earth, which is a part of heaven, and forsooth no foul part.”

In other words, connecting with our fellow humans is life. Failure to connect, or connecting only with ourselves, is death. So everything we do while we dwell on this earth needs to be about connecting with others, and when we do this, the earth on which we dwell is a good place: it is heaven on earth.

I discovered this week that a song had been written about John Ball and his teaching about fellowship, you can watch it on You Tube here: https://youtu.be/vwNYRTykPq4?si=_HkkWV81b8fNgCVK

The song goes:

Sing John Ball and tell it to them all,
long be the day that is dawning,
I’ll crow like a cock and carol like a lark
For the light that is coming in the morning…
Labour and spin for fellowship I say,
Labour and spin for love of one another,
Labour and spin for fellowship I say,~
For the light that is coming in the morning.

Words of hope and longing. Words that we can put into practice right now as well – for fellowship is within all our grasp. Letting go of the view that it’s only our individual selves that matter. Forgetting how important it is that we connect with each other. I discovered recently that social isolation is as damaging to the health of those over 60 as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Just stop a moment and wonder at that – it took me a while to let it sink it. It is too easy to dismiss the importance of social interaction – fellowship – but it is vital to life.

The next few weeks we’re going to be reflecting on a letter written to one of the earliest Christian communities by St Paul. He is always keen to encourage fellowship because he knows how vital it is to life. In this letter he tells this very new church that they are the “smell of God” in the world. I think fellowship is one of the smells of God – it wafts around and impacts people’s lives, and when it is not around, there we find the stench of decay and death.

Fellowship is life, so let’s make it happen and I pray that you will find fellowship this week.

If you want to talk about anything I have written here or anything at all, then please send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Rev Anne.

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