The more I read about the history of Koinonia, the more I wonder if it has anything to teach a contemporary congregation about living in community. As we saw in the last chapter, Koinonia really struggled with the reality of living in community. Clarence Jordan was steeped in the Scriptures and believed whole-heartedly in the model of community demonstrated in Acts 2:44-45 (“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” NRSV). Clarence, however, “was no student of community.” The community’s struggles for unity continue in this chapter. While they learn a lot from the experiences with the Hutterite and Bruderhoff communities, unity, as the chapter titles suggests, still eludes them.
Sometimes, I feel a little like Clarence. As a pastor, I hope–down to the marrow in my bones–that our congregation might become a true Christian community, sharing goods and good news with each other and with others outside the community, making all our decisions through conversation and prayer, living out the Gospel in every aspect of our community’s life together.
But the members of our church don’t live (geographically) together…our members probably come from seven or eight different counties. We certainly aren’t a “community of goods;” several economic “locations” are represented by our members. We don’t worship, or work, or eat together daily. In fact, we have very few members–some, but not many–who come to worship weekly. And in this age of “Why did you call when you could have texted?” I am coming to despair that true community–outside of true communities like Koinonia and the Hutterites and the Bruderhof (which are called “cults” by some on the web, by the way)–can really happen.
So, what can these intentional communities teach congregational communities about living as a Christian community? Is there something to be gleaned? Or is the gap between intentional community and church community simply too wide to learn anything?
These are the questions that will continue to guide my reading of “Cotton Patch Evidence.”
Yesterday I went to a wake at a local funeral home, stayed an hour, and watched a constant stream of people come in to comfort the widow. Many of these people were church friends, but not from just one church. This couple and their families were known for reaching out to neighbors, for being there when help was needed. They created their community and the churches were part of that.
That’s what I see as the function of our church, not to be our sole community, but to help us to keep our fellow travelers in our hearts and minds, and to provide us with some opportunities to do that. As you probably know, my husband’s response to churches is that “they do more harm than good.” For me, one of the few places where I get to think about and consider spiritual ways of being is the church. There I can learn from others, sometimes just by their presence. I wish I were better, as the family was yesterday, at carrying that out into the community at large.
What can intentional communities teach us? To think more about community and to work harder at being one focus of community. They could teach us something about clarifying our mission, working together. (Vague, I know.)