This chapter describes two main tensions in the Koinonia community–the tension between the community and established churches and the tension between the ideals and the reality of living in community.
First, the church tension. From the beginning, there was some question as to whether Koinonia was a church community or not. Some Koinonians chose to do all their worshiping within the community; others chose to join and/or attend Rehoboth Baptist Church…which worked fine until the Brownes brought an agriculture student from India to worship. This student was not Christian and wnted to learn about Protestantism in the South while he studied at Florida State University. Because the man was dark skinned, the church took offense. A dis-fellowshiping process was begun.
I’ve been dis-fellowshiped before. While I was on staff at Viriginia-Highland Baptist Church in Atlanta, we, along with Oakhurst Baptist in Decatur, were dis-fellowshiped by the Georgia Baptist Convention. At the Macon Convention Center in November 1999, 2,000 Geogia Baptists cheered for us to be removed from the rolls. I was frightened, perhaps more frightened than I’ve ever been. (We later learned that sheriff’s deputies had been assigned to follow us around the convention center to provide protection.) It was the ugliest display of “Christian” conviction I’d ever seen.
Even when you know that you’re living contrary to many of your brothers and sisters in Christ, the experience of being excluded from the fellowship is traumatic. It makes you rethink everything you ever believed about Christian faith….at least it made me re-think my faith.
Because Clarence and the Koinonia crew were so committed to living into God’s kin-dom, and because they already had begun to stir things up in their Sumter County community, perhaps they were better prepared to deal with being dis-fellowshiped…or maybe it was just as traumatic for them as it was for us in 1999.
Now, the other tension addressed in this chapter–the tension between the ideal and the reality of living in community.
Before reading “Cotton Patch Evidence,” I always assumed that Koinonia was a little piece of heaven (or kin-dom of heaven) on earth. I began studying Koinonia because I thought here was one Christian community–a community started by Baptists, no less–who had gotten it right.
Then I read this chapter and learned that living community, really living it is hard. How do you handle finances? How do you divvy up the workload? Should each home have a kitchen, or should everyone depend on community meals for nourishment? Who raises the children, individual families or the community? If everyone is equal, how is the community led? How does the community account for the differing gifts of the community’s members?
To figure all of this out–to figure out any of it, really–you have to have meetings. Lots and lots of meetings.
Congregational (with a little c) churches make a lot of their decisions by meetings/talking. There have been times when church members (usually Catholics or Methodists, churches with hierarchical structures) have pulled me aside after a council meeting and said, “I think things would go more smoothly and efficiently if you’d just tell us what to do.” Those people are exactly right. Things would move more quickly if I pulled rank…but we are a congregational church through and through (which basically means, I have no rank). To the best of our ability, all major decisions made FOR the community are made BY the community. It might not be as efficient as a hierarchical model, but it is a model that honors every voice in the community. As one person has said, “In the UCC you might not get your way, but you always get your say.”)
The thing that I think is so hard for church members today is this idea that community is hard work. So many people come to chuch looking for exactly the kind of worship experience, exactly the kind of outreach programs, exactly the kind of small group experiences they want. If they find everything they want, they stay. But the minute something happens that doesn’t fit with what they want, they leave….
…which is a fine process for nurturing one’s own spirituality, but it is not a means of living in community. Living in a community means working it out together. Living in community means learning from the things that happen that aren’t your cup of tea. Living in community means listening as much as you speak. Living in community means setting your own desires aside on occasion for the good of the community. I fear that, in many ways, our society has become so individualistic, so attuned to instant gratificiation, that we are losing the gifts of true community…all because we simply don’t want to do the work.
The biggest surprise for me in reading “Cotton Patch Evidence” came in this chapter. I never knew that Clarence asked the community if it would be better if he and his family left the community. His speaking engagements kept him away from the community and its work for long periods of time. His constant leaving and returning was disruptive. A person who could recognize his disruptiveness to the community and who was willing to sacrifice membership in the community for the good of the community…that is a person who was truly committed to koinonia.