Fellowship with brethren is foundational to the Christian walk. Our relationships with others in the Church of God give our lives meaning, help us grow spiritually, allow us the opportunity to serve one another, and provide us with new perspectives. Not to mention, it is commanded! But with the Church of God so divided and scattered, it is often hard to have consistent meaningful fellowship.
It is becoming increasingly important to take advantage of Church of God events that occur throughout the year. It is no longer common to have a completely self-contained community of 100+ people in your local area. We each must exert more effort to obtain that spiritual fulfillment and connection that only comes from meeting and spending time with brethren. Nothing beats in-person fellowship. More in-person fellow ship not only helps break down walls of division, it stirs us up to serve and love one another, and helps us realize we’re not alone in our struggles.
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
At Church of God Network, we’re working to challenge the conventional wisdom that unity and community within the Church of God can only come through us all being a part of the same organization. We believe that people can feel part of a vibrant Church of God community, even if they aren’t in the same organization or can’t physically be with brethren as often as they’d like. The Church of God is one spiritual body (Romans 12:5), and organizational affiliation should not interfere with that reality. If there aren’t many brethren from the church organization you attend in your local area, try attending an event put on by another organization. You don’t need to feel pressure to join or to agree with everything. Enjoy the spiritual fellowship and the excitement that comes from meeting more of God’s people!
Fortunately, many of the events that occur throughout the Church of God are open to brethren from any Church of God organization. I had the pleasure of attending several such events over the last two months. The first was the 60th Anniversary of the Church of God in New York City and the others were Winter Family Weekends (WFW) put on by various church organizations. For those who are new to the whole WFW concept, several Church of God organizations put on events around Christmas time, so that brethren can be together, during a time of year when they already have time off and want to escape the paganism of the season. These events are great ways to meet people, and despite not being a member of these church groups myself, I have ALWAYS felt welcome.
60th Anniversary of the Church of God in NYC
On November 16th, I attended the 60th Anniversary of the Church of God in New York City. The event was hosted by the United Church of God but was open to all Church of God groups. The event included a video presentation from Gary Antion (who had helped found the New York City Church for Worldwide back in 1959), dinner, and a dance. It also, of course, included plenty of time to meet brethren and reconnect with old friends to reminisce. I was fortunate to be able to attend with my entire family and share this experience with them. I have to admit, it was an emotional experience for me. My parents had spent their formative years (spiritually speaking) in the Brooklyn Worldwide Church of God congregation. I saw my parents faces light up when they saw friends they hadn’t seen in decades. One was a woman my dad had coached in YOU in the 1980s when she was just a teenager; now, she has a teenage son of her own. My mom was in tears seeing her again. And, of course, this woman couldn’t believe that my parents now had two adult sons…one pushing 30 years old (ugh….yes I’m old. Thanks for the reminder).
The event highlighted the remarkable diversity of the NYC Church, as well as the incredible pace of growth in the 70s and 80s. Brethren of all races, ethnicities, and economic statuses attended in NYC, and there was a genuine warmth, love, and exuberant atmosphere in the congregations that people pointed out whenever they passed through.
We need more events like the NYC Church’s 60th Anniversary. Events that acknowledge our shared history and help us remember the joy in that history. The positive change and growth we all want to see in the Church of God does not start with pessimism and negativity; it starts with realism, passion, and inspiration! Let’s work to stir up that zeal and passion in one another!
1 Week – 3 Winter Family Weekends
Each year I try to attend at least one WFW. They are fantastic ways to meet brethren. Last year, I had the privilege of attending with the Living Church of God in Charlotte, North Carolina and had a blast! I met so many kind and welcoming people there. This year, the United Church of God and the Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) had WFWs that didn’t overlap, so I decided to take this opportunity and attend both. I was then invited to represent Church of God Network at a Ministry Expo and participate in Church of God, International’s “Bring on the Sabbath” program at the Lexington, Kentucky WFW. This WFW is put on cooperatively by several other Church of God groups. It proved to be a busy, but incredibly rewarding week!
While each organization has their own unique twist on WFW, they usually include 1 or 2 dances, a variety of Biblical seminars, and sports tournaments (usually basketball and volleyball). There really is something for everyone at these weekends, but more importantly, it provides an opportunity for brethren from across the United States and the world to come together and build relationships. You don’t need to be a member of these organizations to attend with them either. There were many COGWA and Living Church of God brethren at the United WFW and vice versa. I met a number of brethren from independent Church groups at each weekend as well.
The people I met and the conversations I had during this trip will undoubtedly keep me spiritually energized for months to come. It was so much fun staying up late talking with brethren, discussing what we’d been studying, struggling with, inspired by, etc. It was exactly what I needed spiritually! WFWs, and other yearly events, are great ways to make lasting friendships, feel a part of a larger community, and experience a spiritual rejuvenation between Holy Day seasons.
What YOU can do!
We are meant to be together and events like these illustrate that. It is important to feel connected with other members of your church organization; however, it is equally important to feel connected with your brethren across the greater Church of God community. We have been divided and scattered for so long. If we don’t start branching out and developing relationships across groups, we risk further isolation and division. But by branching out, and experiencing events held by different organizations, you can be part of the solution!
The Church of God is a family, and we all could benefit from spending more time with our spiritual family – strengthening, serving, and encouraging one another, and demonstrating the love that Christ’s disciples are known by! (John 13:35)