Peter, John, Paul - these are the names we come up with when we look to those who built the church in the days after Christ’s resurrection. We hear about their faithful and devoted commitment to God in forming the foundation of the early church. They were vital in the establishment of the Christian Church and laying the groundwork for our churches today—the body of Christ, the community of the faithful.
However, there are also some lesser-known names who made a tremendous impact in forming the church from its very beginnings. Names like Barnabas, Phoebe, Epaphras. These were the “behind the scenes” people who do not get much mention in the New Testament, yet were just as vital as the well-known figures previously mentioned in establishing the Christian Church.
Barnabas was known as “the encourager,” a task that was so needed in the early days of the church when the disciples were so filled with doubts and misgivings. He welcomed individuals into the early church, especially a former persecutor of the church named Saul, soon to be Paul, who many of the disciples were very apprehensive about.
Phoebe is briefly mentioned in Romans 16:1-2 where Paul asks the church of Rome “to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” She is named as a benefactor, a helper or patron, someone who gives support to a group, in this case the early Christians. Scholars speculate that she hosted the house church of Cenchreae in her home, as well as providing shelter and hospitality to Paul when he was in that town. Paul’s trust in her is evident in the passage; he basically asks the church of Rome to give her whatever she needs, for she is doing trustworthy work for the Lord.
Epaphras is another individual that is mentioned briefly by Paul in his letters. He is a “servant of Christ” and in Colossians 4:12, Paul writes, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Earlier in Colossians, Paul writes that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the world. He claims that much of the credit for the growth of that church in Colossae goes to Epaphras—one whom most of us probably have never heard of.
Without these lesser-known and behind the scenes individuals, the church would not have been established and survive. They were just as important to the increase of the early church as was Paul, Peter, John, and Timothy.
Soon we will start opening the doors of St. Andrew’s UMC for in-person worship services. That is, if the new cases of COVID-19 continue to decline in Hillsborough County. Yet another factor that will determine if we can reopen the sanctuary doors on Sunday morning will be if we can get enough volunteers who will help in providing a welcoming presence and keeping the services safe for people who enter. We need people who will help set up, greet, be ushers, help in sanitizing the worship space and help in tear-down. We need the Barnabas, Phoebes and Epaphras in our church if we are to reopen our doors.
We are asking you to prayerfully consider being a part of this volunteer team. You can go to https://saumclife.churchcenter.com/people/forms/148082 to see further descriptions of the volunteer opportunities and to sign up. Your help is truly needed. If you have already signed up to help, we thank you. Hope to see you in person soon.