• Christ Fellowship service gains following

  • Christ Fellowship — Fort Leavenworth is at 5 p.m. every Sunday in Pioneer Chapel.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    In August 2017, when Chaplain (Maj.) Josh Gilliam was getting a routine blood draw, he didn’t expect to begin discussing the Gospel.
    “I was in civilian clothes and the guy drawing my blood started to share the Gospel with me and it was cool,” Gilliam said. “I said, ‘Do you go to service on post? He said, ‘I went a couple times,’ but then he paused and said, ‘That place just isn’t for corporals,’ and it was this really bitter moment of you’re right. What we’re doing isn’t for corporals.”
    Gilliam, who is an assistant professor of world religions at the Command and General Staff College, didn’t forget that encounter and he started thinking of ways to start a service on post that made corporals feel more open to attending.
    Now, a year later there is a new Christ Fellowship service at 5 p.m. on Sundays at Pioneer Chapel and the community completed its fifth session Aug. 26. More than 50 people of all ages attend the service each week.
    “We want to be a chapel for the generations and that means all the generations are represented,” Gilliam said. “We really hope that young people will find this a place they can call home.”
    There are several unique pieces to the new service, Gilliam said. It is the only Protestant service to meet in the evenings, it encourages discussion during the weekly message, the community shares a meal every week, communion is offered every week, and there is a large social media platform to engage followers through video teasers about the sermon, podcasts and online discussions.
    “What we’re doing is small, but it’s real,” Gilliam said.
    The service begins with a potluck community meal and worship through music.
    “In order for us to devote ourselves to fellowship, we have to have context for it,” Gilliam said during the message. “The best way we can think of to have context for fellowship is to eat together and we want to continue to do it.
    “If this is too long, if you need to cut something out, leave after worship. I’m going to post what I’m going to say online,” he said. “You can’t eat with this group online.”
    Community member Yeliska Wagner said this stood out to her.
    “You can listen to great teachings on the internet, but you can’t have dinner with other people as we do here. So, that’s even more important than his teaching,” Wagner said. “I think exercising that fellowship makes a big difference. I personally have felt sometimes kind of heavy from the week with life and coming here I feel like there’s just a shift. The fellowship, it feels like God’s love is there.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Following the meal and worship time, the service continues with prayers for the people where members are encouraged to share their prayers aloud, scripture readings and the weekly message. The format of the message, Gilliam said, is modeled in the root meaning of homily.
    “When you dissect the world ‘homily,’ it is actually a discussion with the people,” Gilliam said. “We’ve turned it into a speech, but originally it was a discussion. We’re trying to preserve some of the things that families would do at the dinner table.
    “We had a 5-year-old last time who piped up with ‘Jesus is a superhero,’” he said. “It was cool.”
    Thirteen-year-old Lydia McDougall said the discussion format of the sermon is her favorite part about the service.
    “That’s just interesting because it isn’t one person talking,” McDougall said.
    Wagner agreed.
    “I just love the fact that it’s very interactive and we’ll always have a voice and share thoughts on the word,” Wagner said. “It provokes revelation of Jesus on one another and it’s not just that you’re being fed the word, but you’ll have that image of what that word means.”
    Following the message, the community receives communion.
    “We need to expect an encounter with Christ through the sacraments,” Gilliam said during the message. “Let us be a people that as we come to take communion that we come with expectation of the encounter of participating, of interacting, of communing with, of being touched by, of being healed by, of being ministered by Christ.
    “May we be a people who drink deeply from the reservoir of Christ,” he said. “Yes, let that be through scripture. Yes, let that be through worship. Yes, let that be through being God’s hands and feet. Yes, let that also be the reservoir in the cup that we get the privilege of coming even if we don’t understand what’s happening. Enter into the mystery Christ lays out for us.”
    The service ends with ministry time when the community prays for one another.
    “We just invite people, if anybody’s sick come and we’d like to pray for you,” Gilliam said. “Sometimes it’s strange to pray for each other but we just got to get over that.
    “This is church,” he said. “This is like a family. Let’s pray for one another.”
    It’s the sense of family that many members are responding to.
    Page 3 of 3 - “You see that community and focus on relationships,” said Maj. Richard Shawger, Command and General Staff Officer Course student. “It’s not like you just walk in the door and get preached at. You’re getting to know everyone, and the leaders of the service do a good job of incorporating it in.”
    Community member Jewel Alvis said the service reminds her of growing up in the church.
    “There’s a lot of sharing, there’s a lot of building relationships and just a fresh way to worship God and to be a part of the community,” Alvis said.
    Maj. Don Wagner, senior defense council, Trial Defense Service, said the timing of the service is perfect for families.
    “It’s a nice place to start the week,” he said. “It’s a non-standard time, but it’s for families.”
    Shawger said it’s perfect for shift workers, too.
    “We want to be able to provide opportunity to worship and fellowship for all people at Fort Leavenworth,” he said. “Shift work makes Sunday morning not possible for service.”
    While the service has many appealing aspects, Gilliam said his biggest hope is to reach a certain population.
    “We hope to have reached a population in this installation that’s not completely part of a spiritual family,” he said. “We hope to grow by the good news through relationships, getting to people that are not already connected.”
    Wagner said Christ Fellowship is the best place to start.
    “I’m not sure I’ve met a group of less threatening folks,” he said. “It’s just a group of people that just love folks and are very welcoming.
    “If people are looking for a way to know what church is about or what God is about or what Jesus is about,” he said, “this is the place to be.”
    For more information about Christ Fellowship, visit www.christfellowship.io or the Christ Fellowship – Fort Leavenworth Facebook page, e-mail hi@christfellowship.io or call (706) 718-9765. Services are at 5 p.m. every Sunday in Pioneer Chapel. Child care is provided.
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