August 2003 — I write this in the Birmingham airport, waiting several hours for a plane stalled in the Northeast by inclement weather. Outside, the North Alabama skies also are dark and stormy, lightning flashing, peals of thunder reverberating across the heavens. But no thunderstorm can dampen the joy I feel following a full weekend with Disciples Fellowship in this city of rolling hills, luxuriant foliage and stately tree-lined streets.
Like Barnabas at ancient Antioch, I have witnessed the grace of God and I am glad (Acts 11:23). This new community of believers began only months ago as a friendly spinoff from a large established church in Birmingham and has at its core a cadre of disciples committed to Jesus Christ, to one another and to sharing Christ’s love and redemption to the broad range of hurting needy persons around them.
Saturday afternoon, I presented three lessons on the spiritual gift of prophecy and preached Sunday morning on Jesus our representative. But I received far more than I gave. Meeting in an upper room (as it happens), these 100 or so believers shared a joyful time of worship that combined contemporary and liturgical elements. The church varies its ways of celebrating the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist), sometimes using ancient liturgy, sometimes employing informality that emphasizes community. Today was time for the latter. Two tables were set with bread and fruit of the vine, around which people gathered in groups of 10-12 circling each table. There, standing, we clasped hands during thanksgiving for Christ’s body and blood, then shared the Supper together. Throughout the room, others were exchanging holy hugs and verbal expressions of Christian love. The scene was solemn but not funereal, celebratory but not irreverent. It was a powerfully moving experience.
The church’s preaching minister (every member is a “minister” they emphasize) is Greg Newton, who with his wife spent several years as missionaries in Tanzania, Africa. My only regret after the weekend was that Houston, Texas and Birmingham, Ala. are so many miles apart that I cannot visit often!