Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfil the ministry that you have received in the Lord”. (Colossians 4:15–16)
To many the word ‘church’ conjures up the picture of ancient buildings with the faint whiff of damp. Hymnbooks line shelves by the door, and a flash of colour gentle glows from flowers displayed by the altar. In summer months the churchyard path is dappled with pale confetti.
For those involved in PCCs, the word ‘church’ also conjures up meetings, insurance premiums and fundraising efforts. Bills spiral and income drops. Responsibility weighs ever more heavily, and the paperwork seems endless.
We find a very different picture in todays verses. Rather than having dedicated buildings, the earliest church met in people’s homes. We don’t know much about Nympha of Laodicea, but she must have had a house which was big enough to host a good sized meeting. Given this, it is a fair assumption that she was a wealthy woman, either in her own right or as part of a wealthy family, and she was keen to use her position to benefit the local church.
This pattern of meeting in homes is a good one, and not only because it is cheaper! To worship together in a house reinforces the point that our faith is an everyday affair. The smaller scale of the meetings meant the communities were tight-knit, and the practice of hospitality is a good Christian virtue. It also meant that, in times of persecution, the church could quickly go underground.
We can also learn from this passage the importance of Christian ‘patrons’. Those who could use their position in society, their wealth, and their homes to support others and to build up the church. Although we might like to focus on the well known names in the Bible - Peter, Paul, John and so on - it was the activity of women like Nympha which was the backbone of the early church.
So it remains today. We might focus on vicars as the ones leading the church, but it is the faithfulness of the congregations which keep the show on the road.