By Melissa Bane Sevier, author of Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews (2017-18 Horizons Bible Study Guide) and course leader.
Like most writers, I love to read. A few years ago I went through a phase of reading memoirs by sailors. Not the Navy kind, the we-have-a-little-sailboat kind. My husband and I had a sailboat because we lived near a large lake; we sailed whenever we could. I still remember many of those stories, often about people on ocean-crossing or world-circling trips in boats I thought of as far too small. The sailors who really intrigued me were those who sailed solo.
Sailing alone can be fun. Sailing alone around the world can be fun, adventurous, terrifying, and very, very lonely.
While I recall tales of life-threatening storms, the most memorable stories were of times when the boat wasn’t moving at all. If your boat doesn’t have a big engine, there will be times when you are sitting still because there’s no wind. Some of those times may stretch into days, or even weeks. Sailors wrote of the loneliness that became so deep they felt they were losing their minds, or themselves. They saw no one, not even a boat in the distance. They heard no voice because they were too far from land to get radio reception. Their loneliness sometimes disoriented them even when they had the sun, or stars, or GPS.
People are meant to be together. We long for others who will understand us, comfort us, laugh with us, support us, be with us. As we read in the opening chapters of Genesis, it isn’t good that we should be alone. We need each other.
Think of all the groups you’re a part of, both structured and unstructured. Community comes in many forms—religious, familial, friendship, recreational, political, work-related, neighborhood. When the groups you inhabit are healthy, they make you a better person. And when stresses come, the people who support you make your path a little easier.
As you likely know, every single book, poem, story, or letter in the Bible was written by a specific person for a specific readership. That’s what brings me to the reason I chose community as the overarching theme for the PW 2017-18 Horizons Bible study on the letter to the Hebrews. The particular community to which that letter was addressed was under the stress of persecution. That kind of difficulty surely caused conflict, fear and anxiety, struggles with faith. The author of the letter writes to encourage the people to stay faithful, to lean on God and Jesus, to remember the saints of the past, to hold onto the strength they draw from each other, to run the race that is set before them.
It’s in the running of the race that we feel the support of people who care about us—those who are in our lives right now and the long line of those who’ve paved the way to make the running course a little smoother. We hear the encouraging cheers, we see the signs of love and caring.
Our steps are easier, our hearts are lighter, our courage is stronger because we are not alone.
Back to those memoirs of solo sailors… They got through the lonely times by remembering the people who would be waiting for them at their final port: home.
I hope you’ll be able to join us July 31—August 2 when we’ll explore together this Bible study and the theme of community. We’ll send you home with ideas for studying the lessons together with your own community of faith. More than that, we’ll encourage each other to reflect on the people and communities who form us, love us, and help us find our feet as we run the race.
Melissa Bane Sevier is a teaching elder in the PCUSA who, after more than 23 years as a pastor, chose in 2015 to leave the pastorate and focus on her longtime ministry of writing and photography. She’s written for numerous publications and published a book on clergy sabbaticals for the Alban Institute; she also writes and takes pictures for businesses. Melissa is a frequent preacher and speaker in a variety of settings. You can find her weekly faith blog at www.melissabanesevier.wordpress.com and a few of her photos at www.melissabanesevierphotography.com. Follow her on Twitter (@MelissaSevier) or Instagram (melissabanesevier). Melissa has a degree in elementary education (King College), an MCE from Reformed Theological Seminary, an MDiv from Louisville Seminary, and a DMin from McCormick Seminary. In addition to her work Melissa loves reading and cooking, and always makes time to spend outdoors—camping, hiking, cycling, canoeing, jogging, gardening. She lives in Versailles, Kentucky, with her husband Jerry.
The Center for Lifelong Learning is pleased to offer Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews (2017-18 Horizons Bible Study Leader Course), July 31 through August 2. This course will be led by study guide author, Melissa Bane Sevier. Register HERE.
You may also learn more about the ways Columbia Theological Seminary partners with Presbyterian Women at www.ctsnet.edu/presbyterian-women.