What is the Link Fellowship?
What Corps do you belong to?
Peter and I are soldiers at the Staple Hill Corps, but The Link Fellowship is an independent ministry. Although we are based at Staple Hill our membership is open to others who belong to various Corps within the City and other Corps throughout the United Kingdom Territory.
But you just said in your opening statement that you meet in each other's homes!
Yes, that is true! We are a recording ministry and we share worship by means of recorded CDs. Our members receive two CDs every fortnight and these comprise of two meetings. Every month, news concerning members is shared at the start of a meeting CD. They also receive Fellowship Prayers once a month on a separate CD.
So how did this work commence? Were you asked to do it?
I have over the years been unable to attend the Army for long periods of time due to illness. This not only deprived me of sharing in corporate worship but also excluded me from other activities. As time went by I also found myself cut off from the Corps family and sadly often forgotten by them. Occasionally, when Cavan was taking part in the meetings, Peter would take a portable tape recorder and record the meeting so that I could hear him. This would make me feel ‘homesick’. I realised that others must feel this way too. After a while, one Sunday morning in the quiet of my home, the Lord set an idea in my mind. Why not share my tapes with others? After all Peter is a qualified electrician with hobbies including stage lighting and sound recording. I could work from home. I was able to attend the meeting one week and I asked the Corps Sergeant Major if he knew of anyone that would like to receive the tapes. He announced from the platform that Peter and I were starting a tape fellowship. Looking at each other, with surprise, we said; ‘We are?’ We soon received our first customers. The Corps recording ministry that we started continues to this day and for that we give God the glory.
A couple of years later, after moving to another Corps, we were asked if we could record the meetings for a member of the Corps who was living in a Salvation Army Eventide Home. The Corps Officers of the day, joined in with enthusiasm, and we-recommenced this work this time deciding to become an independent ministry. Peter and I chose the name and the Link Fellowship was born.
So are all your member people who can’t attend the meetings anymore?
Yes, in the main our members are Salvationists who can’t attend the meetings because of old age and infirmities, but who still have the desire to worship. As time has gone on others have come to us who no longer belong to a Corps or Church and for them the Link Fellowship is their spiritual home. There are also those who have special needs or who have passed through difficult and trying circumstances. Within this Fellowship they find love and support from the other members at a time when unfortunately, the rest of the world has turned away. This means that we have no age restrictions and at times the age range of our membership has been from teens to late nineties. Our CD’s also go into Eventide Homes and at times HM Prisons. However I am always pleased when members have once again started to attend a place of worship. I would never like the recordings to be used to leave Sundays free for other activities. But for those who cannot ‘get to the Army’ we take the Army to them and many recordings are listened to at the meeting times when the members would have been at worship, thus still keeping Sunday a day of worship.
Are all of your members Salvationists?
The majority are, but we welcome our friends from other denominations. In fact they bring a lovely sense of unity and friendship and soon feel 'at home' in the Army.
Where do you record the meetings?
We record from the Staple Hill Corps, but occasionally visit other Corps within the City of Bristol. We are grateful for all the help and assistance that is given to us wherever we go. Every facility is made available and some Corps allow us to leave the cables and stands around the hall when necessary. Peter and I always receive a warm welcome and often the Fellowship is welcomed from the platform. We have always contacted the respective Corps Officers in advance to ask their permission to record their meetings. For five years Peter and I attended the Holiday Plus Fellowship at Butlin's and spent the week making many recordings that we then shared with our members during the following year. Peter and I have also been responsible on different occasions for the Public Address System at DHQ events. We have taken the opportunity to record these meetings and so our members have been part of Youth Councils, Rallies and Junior Soldier events to name a few.
How often do you send out the CDs? How do your members receive them?
One meeting a week is recorded and so the members receive one CD a week. At the beginning we visited every member each week to take their recording to them but as the membership grew we found this physically impossible. So now members who have family at the Corps receive their CDs weekly. For others they receive two CDs through the post every two weeks. We operate like this for eleven months of the year, resting or rather 'collapsing' during the month of August.
Is there a membership fee and how do you fund the Fellowship?
There is no membership fee. As the Fellowship is independent we do not receive sponsorship or financial support from Corps level or from the Army. Peter and I regard our commitment to this work to be total and therefore contribute financially, tithing a regular weekly amount. The extra electricity, phone, petrol, printing all become part of our household bills. We are always very grateful for the generous donations that we receive. At times we have been able to purchase different items of equipment with money donated by the families of members who have been Promoted to Glory. We have never run out of money but neither have we had too much! Always the Lord provides in a wonderful way. Often He deals with the bills before we receive them. 'Great is Thy faithfulness'.
How many people are listening to the CD’s every week?
We had at one time a membership of approximately 80. Our 'listening in' congregation is often in excess of that, as our member’s share their CDs with their friends, family and sometimes their visitors. As you can see my members have found a way of spreading the Gospel showing that you are never too old or infirmed to be an evangelist. It was reported back to me that customers going into an Army Care and Share shop to look for bargains also received the message of the Gospel. One of the shop workers had a Link Fellowship recording playing out through speakers in the shop. Another elderly lady, who was in her late nineties, often invited some of her friends to Sunday lunch and would play a Link recording because she wanted them to know Jesus. This lovely Christian lady was a Methodist and so you could say that she had taken the Army back to its roots.
You have mentioned other fellowships, Is this type of ministry growing?
When we first commenced this work, there weren't too many fellowships around, but the idea has caught on over recent years and many Corps has found this a valuable form of outreach. The only other independent ministry that we were aware of was Melodies at Eventide which unfortunately had to close. We invited the remaining members to join our family. As far as the Army is concerned this type of ministry is still unofficial, although we receive a lot of encouragement and support from Army leadership at all levels. One idea that has been suggested is a conference where we could all meet and exchange ideas. Peter and I have already been able to do this to a certain extent. You have heard of 'Church or Corps planting'. Have you heard of 'recording ministry’ planting? A United Reformed Church, with whom we have been happy to be associated, borrowed our idea and commenced their own ministry. We have often been told of an excellent recording fellowship at a Corps where our former Corps Officers took up their new appointment. Their ideas and the lines upon which it is run, bear a remarkable resemblance to ours!
From what you have just said it is obvious that this kind of ministry lends itself to varied ideas and forms of service. The Link has been called a 'unique ministry' and also a 'fellowship with a difference'. Why is this?
We have some features that 'personalise' the Link Fellowship. I mentioned earlier that we meet together in each other's homes; and yet some live hundreds of miles from one another. Every month preceding the meetings we share a news time. This gives us a time to share news of each other, fun and laughter and birthday greetings and also share our worries and concerns. Through this our members get to know each other and catch up on news concerning their friends even though they will never meet. It creates a family feeling and gives us a chance to care for and about each other. I bring this time to a close with the familiar words; God Bless You All and Happy Listening..
Every month the members receive a Link Fellowship CD. Around a chosen theme we spend moments of reflection. This includes Bible readings, stories, poems, music, thoughts and prayers. It is a privilege for me to bring our family together in this way.
My ‘signing off’ phrase has given us the title of our quarterly newsletter, called Happy Listening, another feature of the Fellowship which was popular with our members, supporters and friends. It has been temporarily suspended but we are hoping that we may be able to publish it again. Here again it gives the members an opportunity to contribute. It also creates interest in our work and has even brought us some new members.
Another feature is one that I have already mentioned and that is that we are independent. This gives us a little more freedom but also more responsibility. I have always placed a great deal of emphasis on pastoral care and this is even more important among those members who do not belong to a Corps or Church. I regard it a privilege to be invited into the homes of our members through the medium of the recordings and this I do when I lead our News and Prayer time. My phone can ring at any time of the day or night. Letters and cards come to me.. Loneliness is a problem known to all whether this is brought about by old age, illness or circumstances, and we try to overcome this in practical ways as well as offering spiritual support.
Do your members take an active part in the Fellowship
All our members show concern for each other and I often receive enquiries from one about another. Passing on love and greetings is one of my favourite duties. We often act as postman when letters are received and then passed on via the outgoing packets of CD’s. “Postman Pete” is one of Peter’s job descriptions that hasn’t appeared on the back page of ‘Happy Listening’
Every member receives a birthday card through the post from the Fellowship. For some members this has often been the only birthday card they receive.
In the past another member voluntary undertook to send a personal letter of welcome to every new member. Again the personal touch is well received.
Another scheme we tried and found it to work very well, was for members to adopt Junior Soldiers and take an interest in their spiritual development. This not only made a ‘link’ between different parts of the country but helped to bridge the generation gap.
Also as I have said, some members have made very interesting contributions to our newsletter. We seem to have many poets within our membership.
And of course I could not personally keep this ministry running where it not for the prayer support of my people.
Just two more questions. First, what do you feel is the most important part of your ministry?
People. Special people! Important people! Sadly Peter and I are often looked upon as 'babysitters'. You know, there to keep an eye on the old folk, let them see that they are not forgotten. But they are! The older members, the 'has beens' as they were referred to once, gave you the Corps that you are part of today. You may have forgotten them but they haven't forgotten you. Where would you be without their prayers, (and their cartridge, still faithfully fired)? These lovely people are still spiritually aware and active. When my faithful band of intercessors 'get down to business’ the Lord honours their faithfulness and great things happen. A few years ago many not only prayed daily for a Corps within this City but also sent letters and messages to the Officers and Soldiers. The Lord honoured their support and encouragement.
Have you noticed that the back door is open and some have slipped away from the Corps? The chances are they are with us now. Ignoring problems and difficulties does not make them go away. We welcome people and accept them; 'Just as they are'. No problem is too complex and no difficulty too great that cannot be overcome.
Love is at the very heart of this ministry. Love for God and love for one another. Just as the Book tells us. The only set of Orders and Regulations that we hold.
We also know that the Lord is continually adding His blessing and is at work within this ministry. He has used the Link Fellowship to not only bring people back home to the Army but some have returned to Him. I have had the wonderful privilege of sharing with people who have been challenged by the worship and have responded. They have contacted me and my phone has become their Mercy Seat. This of course is the main aim of this Fellowship, to take out the message of the Gospel; the greatest love story ever told.
And lastly, what do you do in your spare time?
In what spare time I have, I enjoy all things to do with sewing and knitting etc. I also enjoy reading. However every day brings its own duties and with the Link I am always on call. Since forming this ministry my situation has changed and Peter gave up full time employment to work part time so that he could care for me. However I still undertake the running of the Link. The irony is that although I was unable to be employed because of my disabilities I would not have had the time to 'go out to work’. Even now with Peter at home for the majority of the week, trying to find time for our lovely family and keep our home running etc. is quite difficult. It is hard to separate our family life from the Link Fellowship. You will have noticed earlier that I referred to the Link as a family. Looking after such a large and growing family is very demanding. Weariness often overcomes us but the satisfaction and the sense of fulfilment that we receive outweighs all of the hard work.
True happiness is love expressed in service,
True holiness, compassion deep and strong;
In giving of my best I find contentment,
And so forget how hard the way and long.
I take on many roles and wear a variety of hats in my work within this ministry. Apart from the administration and all that that involves, I have to be preacher, pastor, listener, advisor, visitor and you may even see me operating the equipment! But one of my greatest privileges is to be able to 'come alongside' a member when they just need a friend.
I believe the Lord has given me this very special work and despite increasing disabilities He will give me the grace and strength to undertake it.
We have taken a verse from The Salvation Army Song Book to be our Fellowship prayer. Will you share with us?
There is a scene, where spirits blend .
And friend holds fellowship with friend;
Though sundered far, by faith they meet
Around, one common mercy seat
God bless you and thank you for your interest.