“All who believed were together and had all things in common.”
Right at the beginning of the Bible we are told that it is not good for human beings to be alone. That is why God created a companion for Adam. To be truly human is to be in a meaningful relationship with others. We are created to be in community and we are nurtured in community. We are who we are through others and with others. That is why individualism and narcissism is so destructive, especially when it characterizes those who believe they are entitled to dominate others, those who hold guns in their hands, or who can plunge nations into war at the press of a button. Whatever else Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas mass-murderer, was, he had no respect for others or self-respect. Such individualism, as the Rule of Taizé puts it:”disintegrates the community and brings it to a halt.” By contrast, those who risked their lives to save others during that horrendous shooting spree, demonstrated what it means to be a human being, a person who cares for others despite the cost. This is what builds and nurtures community.
From beginning, the story of the Bible is about the formation and healing of relationships, and the building of communities in which life can flourish, For Christians that story reaches its climax when, as St. Paul puts it: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” and giving us “the ministry of reconciliation.” (II Corinthians 5) So Jesus began his ministry by calling disciples and forming them into a community to serve others, and the first act of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost was to create a community in which “all who believed were together and had all things in common” in order to spread the good news about Jesus. That, in a nutshell is what the church is all about. It is not primarily an institution, but a community of people in whom Christ through the Spirit takes form and serves the world. It is not a conglomerate of individuals who meet on occasion for spiritual upliftment, but a community of people who share a common life because they share a common commitment to Christ and his ministry of reconciliation.
The early church depicted in Acts was, therefore, what we now call an intentional community. This means that it had a specific reason for its existence and therefore a common vision and commitment. It was a community of people who were reconciled to God in and to each other in order to become God’s agents of reconciliation, peace, healing and justice in the world. That is, to restore community. Every church, every congregation is likewise meant to be an intentional community. Many are, but sadly many forget why they exist, That is why throughout the history of the church. people have felt called to establish intentional communities to assist the church in its mission and remind it of its calling — intentional communities like Taizé and Iona, or the Community of the Cross of Nails to which Volmoed belongs, and many others,
Recently the Volmoed Trustees met together for two days to talk about what it means to be the Volmoed Community, an intentional community with a common ethos and vision. Here are some of the key thoughts that emerged in that meeting and which have now been included in a document entitled Volmoed’s vision and ethos, also available in Afrikaans and isiXhosa. I quote some extracts:
The founding vision of the Volmoed Community was to provide a place of hospitality God can use in the ministry of healing and wholeness, justice and reconciliation in South Africa. That vision remains its core mandate and commitment. It is an ecumenical Community that meets daily for morning prayer and weekly celebrates the Eucharist together…We welcome strangers as well as friends. We seek to maintain the beauty of the environment in order to help those who come to Volmoed to sense the presence of God, and to discern God’s purpose for their lives. We encourage a caring life-style and strive to make Volmoed a place for silent contemplation, for forming deep relationships, a place where creativity can flourish, and the gifts of leadership can be discovered and developed… As stewards of Volmoed we seek to ensure that it is well managed and maintained, and we plan accordingly. Our ministry of hospitality requires nothing less of us. But we are open to the leading of the Spirit, and are regularly surprised by the way in which we are being taken into the future. We invite all who share our vision to also share with us in discerning God’s will for Volmoed going forward.
In saying this, we also said that the Volmoed Community not only includes those who live and work at Volmoed, but all who come here to share with us in its life and worship, all who are committed to its vision and want to be associated with us. And, I must add, part of the purpose of the Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme is to help those who participate learn what it means to live in community by being here.
One of the priests who played an important role in the early days of Volmoed was Clement Sergel whose picture is on the wall of the passage leading to our Gallery Tea Room. It was Clement who, I believe, introduced Volmoed to Taizé songs and who, was instrumental in building the Prayer Hut on the mountainside above Volmoed. Among the books he gave to the Volmoed library was one by Jean Vanier entitled Community & Growth. I end with some words from its pages which Clement heavily underlined:
A community isn’t just a place where people live under the same roof, that is a lodging house or a hotel. Nor is a community a work-team… It is a place where everyone…is emerging from the shadows of egocentricity to the light of a real love…It is listening to others, being concerned about them and feeling empathy with them… It means feeling and suffering with them — weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice… above all (it) means moving in the same direction. (6)
And that direction is the journey into God’s gift of wholeness, healing and reconciliation.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 5 October 2017