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House calls: God's grace in the Cariboo.

I look around the living room as we sing, smiling at those who are gathered in worship and friendship. We have variations in skin colour, age, education and economic status, but in the circle we are all the same--sisters and brothers in the family of Jesus. In the circle, all the distinctions fall away and together we worship and pray, seeking to know and love the Creator more deeply.

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I am in the house church in Ndazkoh. It is so different from Punchaw, Williams Lake or McLeese Lake and all the other house churches that make up the Cariboo Presbyterian Church. Each of them is unique because the people who make up each circle are different in every community. If variety is the spice of life, then we are a zesty congregation.

At the same time, we are no different in many ways from other congregations spread across this vast piece of land we call home. We seek to faithfully walk the way of Jesus in our lives among our communities in the hope that others will join us in the journey and experience the healing, joy and anticipation of eternity that helps us walk forward. We sing, we pray, we study the word, we comfort and congratulate one another, and we mark the significant events in one another's lives. And we share the gifts of God, which are for the people of God.

The last song fades as we pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit to help us understand the scripture that we are going to read and study. Some people who can read open their Bibles, others get ready to listen. Thirty minutes later, after a message and discussion, the Bibles are set aside and we prepare to share in one of the gifts the Creator has given us to mark us as followers of Christ.

On the coffee table sits a wooden plate with a fresh piece of bannock. Next to it, in a wooden chalice, is grape juice and small cups of the same on another wooden plate. I nod to Geraldine who begins to read from a paper in her hand: "This is the Lord's table. Together we remember, celebrate and look forward ... This table gives us a little taste of what Jesus suffered, of what it means to follow him and be part of his family, and of what it will be like to live with him in heaven."

Rosie passes a stick to Geraldine who prays her thanks, "Thank you, Jesus for being with me last week when I was in the hospital. Thank you for helping me and taking care of me."

The prayer stick is passed around the entire circle as people offer their thanks to the Creator. We have offered a prayer of thanksgiving.

My 17-year-old daughter, Shelby opens her Bible and begins to read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as we all listen to the familiar words that have been passed on to us by the apostle Paul, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me."

When she finishes, we pass first the bannock and then the grape juice, serving one another as we say, "Hilda, this is the blood of Christ, shed for you." The Lord's Supper has been shared in his body.

Our time at the table is concluded with passing the prayer stick around one more time as we lift up our prayers for others and ourselves before the Lord. We find healing and hope at the table, and now come in prayer to ask for it for specific situations in our lives and in our world. We finish by gathering around Hilda (for example) and putting our hands on her head and shoulders, anointing her forehead with oil as we pray for her failing health. We commit her to the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

Coming from a Reformed tradition, we believe that the Lord's Supper and baptism are sacraments, visible signs of God's grace. That is what I experience in sharing the bannock and juice with my house church family: God's grace in our lives as we seek to follow Jesus in a community that is in much pain; God's grace which feeds us and gives us hope when so many around us are in despair. If I see healing in the lives around the circle, it is not due to my efforts, but God's grace at work in each of them. How fitting then, that we should share this visible sign together to give thanks, remember and look forward.

We know and trust that Christ's presence is with us whenever we gather to worship, and especially when we break bread and share the cup together. Nothing else makes it a sacrament, a visible sign of God's grace. It is the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, not the presence of a specific person. Take and eat. Take and drink, all of you, and remember him. He is with you as you do.

Rev. Shannon Bell is part of the ministry team at Cariboo House Church Mission in B.C., along with Revs. David Webber and Jon Wyminga, her husband.
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Title Annotation:Being Church
Author:Bell, Shannon
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2011
Words:867
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