As mentioned here, Karlie and I attended a workshop by Jo Gilbert of the Wellspring Community, during the Celebrate Conference.

Jo talked about the concept of koinonia. This is a Greek word that is used in the New Testament when speaking about the communities that formed the newly born Church. She said that koinonia is what made the early Christian communities distinctive and is a rich, multi-layered concept.

Sometimes it is often translated as communion; community is just not close enough to the true meaning. It can also be described as “Partnership for life” or sharing. Jo illustrated it by looking at Acts.

In Acts 2: 42-47 we hear about the community formed after Pentecost:

“They devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship and breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because the apostles were doing many wonders and signs. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Later in Acts 4 we again hear about the developing community:

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no-one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned they held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them and brought all the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostle’s feet and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)

Looking at these passages, what is it that binds these early Christians together and what are the fruits? There are several features. They are united in the teaching of the Apostles and faithful in handing on their new faith to others. They are all turning their hearts to God in prayer. They celebrate the Eucharist, the ‘breaking of bread’ and this is at the heart of the community. They meet at the temple in common prayer, praying the psalms together.

The fruit of this in the lives of the community and of individuals can be seen in their joy and their freedom. They received and so they give in response. Shared resources- material goods, time, talents and skills are all shared. The community looks for those who are in greatest need and gifts are distributed. This giving and sharing lacks any sense of possessiveness. They do not hold on to what they have, they hold it lightly and give with joy. There is a table ministry, a common table. Here the spirit of joy creates a visible, attractive lived witness.

In all these aspects we can see a demonstration of Christ’s on-going presence in a concrete picture. It is not disembodied but lived out by a living community. The practical and spiritual go hand in hand. All is possible in the power of the Risen Christ. This vision is a natural outcome of an encounter with the Risen Christ.

Returning to koinonia, this communion at the heart of the early Church. Union with God is at the centre. The Catechism says that “For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity – all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ – we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.” The deepest vocation of individuals and the Church as a whole, Jo said, is a communion that is rooted in the life of the Trinity. The origin and fulfillment of koinonia is the Godhead. The self-giving, outward moving love we see there is the vision for our Christian communities. This only becomes possible through the Risen Christ and as a result of Pentecost. And that needs another post!