January 2011 - Vol. 46

Antioch Community
by Andy Pettman

Antioch is an ecumenical Christian community based in London, United Kingdom. It’s roots are in the charismatic renewal that spread across many Christian denominations from the early 1970s. At that time there was a particular openness to ecumenical initiatives and an ecumenical community, Antioch, started in West London in 1979.  The community grew rapidly in the 1980s, with many families and students joining, the students linked through an affiliated outreach in the University of London which is now called Koinonia. Today Antioch is a community of around 200 people - families, singles and children - with members who are part of a variety of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches. 

From its earliest days Antioch was linked to an association of communities worldwide with a similar vision, now called the Sword of the Spirit.

Being an ecumenical community
The word community can mean so many different things today. Communities in the Sword of the Spirit base their vision and inspiration on the New Testament description of community life recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2 and 4) and the letters of Paul the Apostle. As an intentional community we are a group of people who have made a commitment to live a common way of life together so that we can support one another in our day-to-day lives as Christians, and carry out mission together and pray together. Of course many churches and parishes describe themselves as communities as well, but the particular type of community which we believe that God has called Antioch to be is distinctive in that it is an ecumenical, covenant community. A common way of life means, not only that we meet together, but that we agree to a set of values and ideas about how to live out the Christian life. These include:

  • A theology based on the Bible and the understanding of the early church, but not uniform due to the different churches we come from
  • Practical teaching on how to live out Christian life in the modern age, and day-to-day help in making this real in our lives
  • Worship that draws both on our various church traditions, and on the work of the Holy Spirit through the charismatic movement
  • And support of one another in day-to-day life, through sharing groups, and for many people by moving into neighborhoods where we are within walking distance of one another.
We say we are a covenant community because we have made a commitment, a covenant to live out our community life with one another for a period of time. For community life to work well, we have to be able to rely on one other, and this requires a higher degree of commitment than is normal in most of our church settings.

Community life goes beyond any one generation or age group, and we actively encourage relationships across the generations. This benefits everyone. Young people have older brothers and sisters in the Lord to look up to and take inspiration from, and older people and singles have the blessing of being able to share in family life even if they do not have children living with them.  Our hope and prayer is that our children will be greater disciples than we are, and to this end we put a lot of resources into our work with our young people.

“I want my children to be better Christians than I am; I think Antioch is a place where that is a real possibility.” 
- Catholic family man 

The heart of community life is the household. A household may be a family, possibly with some singles living with them, or it may be a group of singles living together. Household is the place where we learn to live together day to day, and learn how to love one another as a result. In the Gospel of John (13:35) Jesus speaks of how the love we have for one another will allow others to see that we are his disciples; that is our hope and prayer.

“For me the real blessing is being able to have an extended family. I don’t have children of my own, but being able to get to know and share in the upbringing of so many young people is something special. I often feel that I am an older brother or an uncle to them and they relate to me in that way.” 
- Evangelical Anglican single man

Being a disciple is no easy thing in modern-day London, so to do it faithfully we believe Christians need significant support. Over the years our community, as a member of the Sword of the Spirit association of communities, has developed a series of practical teachings that help people live out Christianity day in and  day. As new members get involved in our life they are invited to take part in teaching and discussion sessions that over a number of years cover the basics of living as a disciple in the modern world, and living in community. Everyone is also part of a small group for sharing and accountability, and over the years we have found that these are more effective when they are single sex groups.  All our members take on some service within our community, and many are actively involved in our various missionary endeavours.

On mission
We believe in mission as our Lord commanded us in the Gospel of Matthew (28:19-20), and we encourage all our members to actively share their faith. We are involved in mission at three stages of life, the first being Youthlink, a youth group that aims to support Christian teenagers in their faith and give them a place to bring their friends to discover faith or deepen it. Secondly we financially and pastorally support an independent student outreach called Koinonia that works in the centre of London. Koinonia reaches out to students attending the University of London colleges, and attracts students from other colleges as well. Thirdly we run adult-oriented Alpha Courses and Life in the Spirit Seminars that allow people to discover and grow in faith. We also sponsor separate men’s and women’s activities that support people in their faith. 
“As a single person I have relationships with children in families…and I think otherwise I would have missed out.” 
- Catholic single woman

Some of our distinctives

Unity in diversity 
Antioch is a community, not a community church, or a church of any other sort. This is a very important distinction, one that was critical for our foundation in 1979 as a community actively supported and encouraged by both Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops. Our leadership is non-ordained, and is drawn from several denominations, and our members attend their own churches. 

Since we are not a church we have different understandings amongst our members of some theology, and one practical outworking of this is that we cannot celebrate the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Mass all together, since this would be against the teachings of some of our members’ churches. 

However we are ecumenical, something our individual churches themselves often find difficult to express in practical ways. In this we express the unity that God sees in the universal church, but that our historical divisions – and prejudices – often cover up. Our theological unity is in adherence to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and traditional Christian moral teaching.

Being ecumenical means that we believe that all Christian people are in God’s eyes one people (The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians 4:4-6) and we are called to love one another (The Gospel of John 15:12-17).  We consider that as Christians we are primarily divided by history, and by different beliefs on important, but not-essential-to-salvation, theology. 

However, being ecumenical does not mean that we all agree with one another on all issues, nor that we play down issues where we have significant differences.  Rather the approach we take to ecumenism, whilst recognizing our differences, looks to see how we can share in the riches of our respective traditions.  This is particularly expressed in our worship and in our encouraging the reading of Christian authors from denominations different from our own.

Even though we cannot hold all of our theology in common, we can share our lives, and carry out mission together. 

“I came from a small town in the Midlands and there was a distinction between one another, and I never mixed with Catholics. I went to a prayer meeting when I first came to London and the Holy Spirit spoke to me and sai, “I am bringing everyone to myself in the same way…so how can you think that you are superior as a Protestant.” 
- Evangelical Anglican family man

During the time of the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit brought about manifestations that in the Bible are called the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul in his writings refers to these same gifts as being given primarily for the building up of the body, the local Christian community. For much of the history of the church after the early period, these gifts were practiced only in a very limited way. However during the 20th century the Holy Spirit worked to revitalize the gifts to be an active expression of his work in the church, through what has become known as the Charismatic Movement, or the Charismatic Renewal. In the last decades of the 20th century the Charismatic Movement spread to most of the major church denominations.

In Antioch we actively encourage the use of the gifts of the Spirit in our worship meetings, particularly the gifts of prophecy, tongues, healing, and words of knowledge (The First Letter of Paul to the  Corinthians, Chapter 12).  However we recognize that for the gifts to be used effectively, they need to be used in good order, as Paul encourages us in his First Letter to the Corinthians (14:26-33), or they will come into disrepute.  As a result, although we encourage spontaneity in the use of the gifts, we seek to exercise them in an orderly way so that the Spirit’s voice to us is clear and not confused.

“I was very sceptical about charismatic worship to start with but gradually God revealed himself to me through the Holy Spirit and showed me the unity that his Spirit brings us.” 
- Evangelical Anglican single man

We are very grateful to God for calling us to be an ecumenical community and for his faithfulness to us over the years. For more information, please feel free to visit our community website:  http://www.antioch.org.uk/
Andy Pettman is senior coordinator of Antioch Community. He is a member of the Church of England which is part of the Anglican communion, and a member of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.

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