October / November 2015 - Vol. 82

Charis Community in Belfast
A Radical Call to Ecumenical Covenant Community
by Laura McAllister

For over 10 years now I have been actively involved in Charis Community in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and in the Sword of the Spirit, the wider network of covenant communities worldwide. But my journey of faith really began from the beginning of my life, as I was blessed to be raised in a loving and committed Catholic family. We went to Church together on Sunday, and we prayed together each night.

Some key decision-making points in my life
Throughout my life thus far, there have been key points of decision-making where I have had to make a choice for God over something else. I'm very grateful for these choices and for choosing to be part of Sword of the Spirit.

When I was a young teenager I joined
Youth Initiatives (YI) a Christian youth organisation in Northern Ireland. YI is where my personal relationship with God really began to grow and flourish. Thanks to the wonderful leaders in YI and the support, encouragement, example, and advice they gave me.

As my faith began to grow I was desperate for more of God. God blessed me in sending my way a woman named Ann Schaefer/Beirlant. Ann had recently come to Belfast to do a Gap year with Youth initiatives. When she saw my eagerness to develop my relationship with God and grow in my faith she invited me to Charis Community and to the University Christian Outreach (UCO) in Belfast. Even though I was only 16 at the time, she made me a welcome and frequent guest at the household of single Christian women where she was living that year. Thanks to her and to the other women in that household, my faith really came alive and I felt like I really belonged.

The joy of serving in Christian community
Another key part of my journey of faith was the call I sensed to go and serve the Lord in other places. I went to the United States to join the Detroit Summer Outreach and I also served for a year in the Work of Christ Community in Lansing, Michigan and in its University Christian Outreach at Michigan State University. At the end of my year of service in the US, I returned to Belfast and resumed my involvement with Charis.

As I think about each of these phases of my spiritual journey, hundreds of people come to mind, each of whom played a role in shaping me and my faith to where it is now and, influencing how it will develop in the future That to me is the joy of Christian community.

I can think of many reasons why I have continued to be involve in Community for so many years and why I chose to make my covenant commitment to Charis and to the wider network of communities, called the Sword if the Spirit - And not least, the blessing of being able to find a place to stand together with people who are constant in faith, hope and love, having a vision to be a bulwark and a place of refuge, and a desire to make Jesus known in this generation.

                                community prayer meeting

A prophetic expression of God's love for his people

There is one thing, I believe, that makes Charis, though a small community within Sword of the Spirit, a significant, unique and prophetic expression of God's love for His people, and that's our ecumenical call - a call to live out Christian unity with integrity. Members of Charis come from a number of different churches and traditions, including Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and Free Church. This expression of ecumenical life shared in community is very important to me.

Living in community has been a rich experience of joy and blessing for me. It has been an opportunity for personal growth, learning how to live a common way of life with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and sharing a common mission to be "Jesus with visible skin on" in the world today. I know that this isn't easy and I don't think most of the brothers and sisters here think it is. It's a challenge almost every day - to walk faithfully with God. But I'm pleased to be traveling this road with all of my brothers and sisters in Charis and I am grateful that the Lord has invited us to this life together as a people.

Stepping in to the Lord's grace and blessing at this stage in my life has meant making a very important decision to be a fully committed member of Charis. This commitment involves a radical call to live as a disciple of Christ in a community of fellow disciples who want to follow the Lord and to serve in a common mission together. I know this is where the Lord has called me to love, serve and live as a member of Charis and the wider Sword of the Spirit to be part of, as our vision states, a community of disciples on mission.

I need ecumenism I need a daily shared life of faith with brothers and sisters in Christ who come from many different churches and Christian traditions. My life is so much richer and stronger and my faith is built up by the amazing gift of shared life in ecumenical community.

I also need the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit to inspire, guide, and strengthen me to live each day as a disciple of Christ in all that I do. It's clear to me that I need to be fully committed to God - to be in a personal covenant relationship first and foremost with God. And it is also clear that God wants me to be a covenanted member of this community - a group of imperfect Christians like myself who want to dedicate their lives together to the Lord and to his work. I need this kind of mutual encouragement and personal support to live my life wholeheartedly for God - now and for the rest of my life.

I am very grateful - to the Lord and to my brothers and sisters in Charis - for the opportunity to live out this call of radical discipleship in an ecumenical, charismatic, trans-generational covenant community.

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