- by Lt Col Jeremy Clare

Jeremy Clare was a Captain in the RAEC when he wrote this article. He was based at a military unit in Germany with his family at the time.


Despite the fact that Christians are "all one in Christ Jesus" it seems that one of the hindrances to real fellowship at OCU weekends and other similar meetings is a lack of openness that partly stems from people not knowing each other very well as people. This is not altogether surprising considering that first, the British (even Christians!) are notoriously slow at drawing close to others and that, secondly, we are very often meeting folk we have never met before, or, at least, not since the last OCU gathering.

It was largely with this problem in mind that the idea was born of arranging a monthly, home-based, get-together for Christians in a given area. It was not our idea originally, but it has been our privilege to be involved in running a dozen or more such gatherings. We, personally, have found the venture great fun and have made many new friends, as well as finding that God really does take care of practical details.

I have been asked to put a few thoughts on paper so that anyone else who feels that his settled home-life could be used in God's service may cull a few ideas and perhaps start something similar. What I write is a mixture of experience and directive, but it is not intended to be a blueprint - God has made it work well for us, but there are many different ways of using the home. Details will obviously have to be adapted to fit the local situation in which readers find themselves. In our case the organisation was shared between two families.

Why bother?

The use of the Christian home for hospitality in general terms is suggested in the Bible in Romans 12:13, " ...Get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night" (Living Bible). Even without such a clear direction the sharing of a happy home with other Christians, especially lonely ones, is a rewarding experience for all concerned. Like many of the gifts of God, it is of best value when it is used. The task of linking up Christians in friendship, as well as at organised fellowship, is perhaps an area to which we should devote more attention.

How do we go about it?

Start by drawing a 40 mile (60km) radius circle on a map of your area with your house as the centre. This is as far as most people, especially families, would want to travel in a day. Unless you are very isolated there will probably be quite a number of OCU members in that circle. Many of these, and other Christians, would really value a day with like-minded people in a family home, and this particularly applies to single officers living in messes. Remember that one of the aims is to link up these people who might otherwise not meet except occasionally at OCU functions. You can find out who is in your "guideline" circle by consulting the OCU address lists, other members, and by just asking around. Prayer needs to feature prominently (see CROSSFIRE (3) on Pray and Plan) when you think about whom to ask. There is no reason why this should not be an all-ranks affair; we ourselves have not made it specifically OCU-based and soldiers have come and enjoyed themselves on several occasions. Remember to invite the local padre and inform him of what you are doing. We once had a really good discussion after tea on "How can we contribute more to the life of the Garrison Church?" which was led by the padre of our church. He really appreciated the involvement.

When you decide whom to ask, invite them in the most appropriate manner (probably a duplicated letter, but a personal letter is more special) to come for whatever part of the day they can manage. Numbers will be a personal decision depending on the size of house etc. but be bold! Not everyone will be able to come on a chosen day (we always found Saturdays best) and if the time frame is from, say, 3 pm to 11 pm (or later!) people will come at different times within that period. We've usually invited 30-40 people and have never been overstretched on the day. Remember to attach a return slip to your invitation to give you some idea of who is coming and for what meals - Christians seem to be a bit vague on these points sometimes, but God has a wonderful way of making the food fit the number of people!

What will we do?

Two things people are generally good at without prompting are talking (once they relax) and eating - you are providing a meeting place for both activities! When people first arrive, it may help to have some music playing softly in the background (there are plenty of attractive Christian groups whose records and cassettes would provide both a talking point and a warm Christian atmosphere). It may also make the point that you have gathered to enjoy one another if you have some simple light-hearted party games early in the proceedings. These have to be chosen and led with great care so that anyone who is shy can happily join in and not feel that it was a mistake to come! Thus games that involve team work (3 dimensional noughts and crosses with team members taking it in turns to play) help people to make friends without the spotlight being focussed on an individual. If you have children who can join in, they will bring the standard of play down to an 'unthreatening' level even if they win every time!

It is tempting to want to fill the available time with talks and tapes and films. To do so is a mistake, valuable though they may be. The emphasis is on people not on information and teaching. To fill your guests with love, fun and the close intimate warmth of Christian fellowship will minister to them far more than to give them the last word on pre/a/post-millenial eschatology! Have one shortish session (5pm - 6pm) when there is an opportunity to pray together and perhaps have a tape or group discussion. Invite a guitar player and use some of the splendid songs of praise in the OCU song books at some stage. Let the Holy Spirit lead on how the time is spent. The whole day is an act of fellowship, washing-up included! It might seem that the 'spiritual' content of the day is small but perhaps we are often too hasty to separate 'spiritual' and 'secular' activities. Don't be rigid in planning the day - provide the basics and note when people want to arrive and leave, so that they can be fed.

How much work is it?

It must be said at the outset that for ourselves these 'get-togethers have proved great fun and truly relaxing. We have a girl of 5 and twins of 3 and they have particularly enjoyed the friendly atmosphere which Christians bring into the home. The catering may seem alarming at first sight and a barrier to a smooth-running and relaxed day, but take heart! Give God this part of the day to deal with in the same way as all the rest of the arrangements. We have found that having all the basics done before people arrive, tea set, food prepared and covered etc. - makes all the difference. This leaves the minimum to do and even that has a habit of being taken care of by willing hands. Appliances (owned or borrowed) such as freezers, hotplates and urns are very useful.

People enjoy contributing in some practical way, perhaps by bringing a cake or pudding. Accept help gladly and don't feel embarrassed about coordinating efforts to cover both meals.

Who looks after the children?

The simple answer is everyone. It is meant to be a family day, and children can be included in most of it. Small ones will not sit quietly through a discussion, and so it is best to organise some alternative activity. A couple of older children or parents can take them all for a walk or to a local play park. The sharing of this responsibility is as important as any other part of the day. In winter a play room will be needed - if you are lucky you may be able to organise this in conjunction with someone living close by. Don't leave the children out of any musical sessions; they love a good sing. If you have small children yourself, they will enjoy a different voice for bedtime stories!

How often should we hold these 'get-togethers'?

The circumstances will decide. In Germany, life tends to be fairly parochial and there are few opportunities to meet many people from outside your own garrison. We have found that once a month is ideal in this situation, but it may be that this would be too often in other places. Be guided by God on this while praying and planning. It is a good idea to discuss the date of the next gathering before people leave.

What are the results?

The idea has been explained. Jesus said "For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). Wait and see what comes of it. It was primarily designed for Christians to meet, enjoy a day out and develop friendships. Closer friendships, and the resulting closer fellowship, will bear fruit in all sorts of ways. Not least will be the element of the building-up of the body of Christ that comes with the sharing of joys and problems. This is specifically mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 "so encourage each other and build each other up". If you think people in your area would enjoy this type of occasiion, why not commit the whole thing to God and try it one Saturday?

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