All posts by James Werning

Koinonia Community – VIDEO!

“As a southern African American man, I knew nothing about this place. However, when you find out about Koinonia, you are like, ‘Why weren’t we learning about this? It seems like a historical secret of some sort that we haven’t been exposed to … My family for generations have lived in the south, unaware of Koinonia as a place that was bringing racial equality before civil rights took off, in the 1940s.” – Mario, Koinonia camp counselor

Koinonia Community is a farm and community on 573 acres in southern Georgia, modeling racial reconciliation and justice with camps and community involvement. The KKK could not bring it down in the 1960s, with shotguns, firebombs, and boycotts. Its partnership housing ministry birthed Habitat for Humanity in the 1970s.

Koinonia
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Rutba House, Durham, NC – VIDEO!

In 2003, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s family had barely moved in when he made a bold offer to a pastor in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina.
“We’d like to start a hospitality house in the neighborhood,” Jonathan said.
“Hold on,” Rev. Hayes said. “You’re saying you want people who don’t live with you to come live in your house?”
“Yeah. That’s right,” said Jonathan.
“When you gonna start this?” she wondered,
“Well, we already have the house. We just need to meet some people.”
“Like today?” she asked.
Their meeting migrated across the street, where Rev. Hayes introduced Jonathan to a man who had just gotten evicted.
To this day, Rutba House delights in sharing meals and hospitality with immigrants, inmates, and people of all classes from their two homes in Walltown.

Rutba House
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Church of the Sojourners – VIDEO!

“This is a good place to see long stories. I love being a part of that … Even when life here is hard, it’s not boring and it’s not meaningless … I never say, ‘Why are we beating ourselves up?’ It always feels like we’re trying to do something that matters. We may be struggling or failing at that, but we’re trying to live lives that are giving to God in the best way that we can imagine … That just really makes life rich to me. It’s meaningful. Yeah. It’s rich.” – Zoe, COS member

Church of the Sojourners is a vibrant community that makes its home in the Mission District of San Francisco, California.

Church of the Sojourners
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CHAPTER: Church of the Sojourners, San Francisco

Finding Intentional Community; Your Journey Home, by James Werning (Wipf & Stock Publishers)

SAMPLE CHAPTER – Please Do Not Copy or Distribute

Church of the Sojourners

Imagine taking everything in the suburbs—the traffic, the stores, the homes, the schools, the hospitals, the parks, the businesses—and compressing them into a fraction of the area. Squish everything together and suck out the empty space, and that’s what you have in the Mission District of San Francisco, where Church of the Sojourners resides.
Where I’m from, people give you a good five-foot clearance on the sidewalks. Here, I’d step up to the crosswalk and the next folks would already be rubbing my shoulders. It’s hard to get away from people in this city. The Sojourners folks we met during our four-day visit thrive in this vibrant, multicultural environment. Meanwhile, each of their four homes has a feeling of peaceful sanctuary. These people are very good at protecting their nests.
One member assured me that city life is nothing special, especially if that’s all you know.
“My daughter is a city kid,” this parent said. “She rides the buses alone and walks alone. Of course, I can’t get her to go camping, because nature feels a lot scarier to her than the city. But there’s a lot of value in the diversity of people and experiences here. You have to be vigilant, though. You can’t say, ‘Go out and play. Be back by noon.’ You don’t do that here.”
As for me, I loved every minute of it . . . from the moment we stepped off the B.A.R.T. and got picked up at the Chinese Donut Shop by a Sojourners member, until three mornings later when we said goodbye. It’s exciting to dive into the flood of people on the sidewalks, all lapping the shores of eateries, coffee shops, hair cutters, laundromats, and boutiques. Alluring spices and aromas tempt you to exchange your earnings for a tantalizing meal. Restaurants place chairs right on the sidewalk, like traps to tumble you into their patronage. Everything is so close. You feel as if you could reach right through the glass and tap the hair stylist on the shoulder.
All this is just three minutes away from your place of sanctuary at the Church of the Sojourners.
If you want to stretch your legs and “get away from it all,” do what I did. Walk south about fifteen minutes, up ridiculously steep streets, past gorgeous old Victorian homes, to the summit of Bernal Heights with its panoramic views of the bay, downtown, and the distant Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy watching people walk their dogs on the lush, green turf, if the wind doesn’t blow you away. Pause to snap pictures for tourists from France or Japan. On your walk home, enjoy the bursts of flowers, palms, and succulents that dangle over the sidewalks. Admire the brilliantly painted Latino wall murals. If you’re not paying attention, you might walk for blocks and blocks, not sure if you are lost or not. You might pass a few homeless camps on the sidewalks. Then you see an iron lattice railing with potted ferns at the top of a narrow stairway, and suddenly you realize that you are home.
This was my first morning at Church of the Sojourners. And it only got better.

Church of the Sojourners, San Francisco
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My favorite experience at Church of the Sojourners was caroling in the neighborhood after dark. Our visit came a week before Christmas, so about fifteen of us took up candles and songbooks and hit the streets. First, we knocked on doors and sang to a few delighted friends of the community. Then we engaged patrons and shop owners at tiendas and taquerias along busy 24th Street. Several drivers stopped to take photos, sing a few lines with us, and wish us a merry Christmas. Down the quieter side streets, we received bright smiles and toothless grins from street people and folks spending an otherwise dreary night at the lavanderia. Then we returned home for hot tea and warm conversation.
This experience was an unforgettable highlight of my holiday season.
Being in the city puts Church of the Sojourners shoulder-to-shoulder with many people in need. They have a long history of helping Spanish-speaking immigrants. Members teach classes in San Quentin Prison and work for open adoption among Latino families. They frequently participate in peaceful protests and prayer walks for victims of violence. They share food, clothes, and friendship with street people.
“Sometimes an outreach can become an in-reach,” says Sojourner’s member Zoe Mullery. “I came here in severe crisis twenty-one years ago. I needed someone to listen to me and tell me the truth about myself. I had met Debbie, one of the founding members, and I still had her phone number in my wallet. So I gave her a call and we met. For two full hours, I just spilled my guts. I let it all out. She was a great listener. She didn’t just pat me on the back and say, ‘Everything’s fine.’ She reflected things back, including the things she thought needed correction. The next day I got an invitation from her, so I agreed to stay with the community for a week. During that time, every one reached out to me. I was messy. I was crying a lot. Jack, one of the pastors, agreed to mentor me. It was a very slow and painful process, but the community nursed me through. I stayed on, but for me it wasn’t love at first sight. It was a very bumpy road. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ But in time, the church was able to minister to my need, and I received that.”

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One of the most difficult challenges for some people in communities like this is strangely enough . . . dinner.
It was certainly a struggle for Zoe, who was assigned a dinner group when she first arrived. “Everybody ate together regularly with their own small group of five people. I’d say, ‘What if I want to have dinner with someone else tonight? What if I just don’t feel like it? What if I want to eat at eight instead of at six?’ It felt very constraining and sort-of arbitrary and small. It felt unfree in the way that I was used to feeling free. It took me a long time to recognize how small commitments like dinner, over time, allow you to bond with people.”
“Eating meals together is kind-of a foundation of Christian life together,” Zoe explains. “Breaking bread together is very significant. It’s part of family life. You just need it. It builds up that ineffable thing that a family is.”
This simple and surprising truth is even supported by modern science. Research shows that children who eat together regularly with their families are healthier, less likely to be obese, at lower risk of abusing alcohol and drugs, and perform better at school than kids from families who don’t eat together.
I observed this health-building practice in action at Church of the Sojourners, where households regularly pray, talk, laugh, and eat around their tables. Joan and I certainly enjoyed sharing these sacred moments with our hosts. My understanding further deepened as Zoe started talking etymology, a topic I rarely discuss in mixed company. (Just kidding!)
“The word companion has at its root the word ‘bread,’ or pan,” explained Zoe. “So a companion is someone with whom we share bread. We share a similar journey and destination with our companion. That’s a very different story than a lone traveler with an individual destination.”
As she explained this concept of sharing bread, the story of Christians in the early church took on new meaning for me.

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart . . .—Acts 2:46 (KJV)

Similarly, I was reminded of the many examples of companionship that Jesus gave us.

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and handed it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it. This is my body.”—Matthew 26:26

As these revelations took root in my heart, I knew that I had discovered the very core and center of Church of the Sojourners.
Where is that center?
At the dinner table.

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Church of the Sojourners has about twenty-five members and four houses in the Mission District of San Francisco. This area gets its name from the nearby Mission Dolores, built by Spaniards in the seventeen hundreds. Sojourner’s families and singles have private rooms with shared kitchens and common rooms. The core, covenanted members pool their finances together, as did the early church in Acts 2:45 and 4:32. Members get a small allowance for personal needs, and they share resources like cars and appliances.
“The number one resource we share together is time,” says member Lee Kuiper. “We like doing a lot of things together. This might seem kind of odd in a place like San Francisco where everyone is pursuing their own path to truth, where they’re on their own individual journeys. So commitment in Church of the Sojourners means investing and building a relationship with the person down the hall. We commit to come to dinner with our households. We commit to prayers and Bible study. Our commitment has a lot of lived-out realities, and if you want to be a participator in this community, when the rubber meets the road, you are showing up. You are physically, emotionally, and spiritually present.”
Households eat meals together on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. The whole community has a meal together on Friday night, which includes a Bible study. Their Sunday evening church service also includes a meal. Households have prayer and meditation in the morning before going to work or school. Community meetings are scheduled for Tuesday nights, and Wednesday nights are used as a date night or free night.
The community practices a quiet and contemplative time of Sabbath Sunday mornings. Everyone is encouraged to have a quiet time to connect with God in whatever way they think is best. Sunday afternoon worship begins at 4:30, and includes communion and a shared meal. They don’t have a church building, but they sit in a circle in one of the homes.
“We have a time for affirmation at these services,” says Zoe. “It’s a time of speaking appreciation and encouragement to the people around us. It’s acknowledging God’s active presence in each other’s lives. It can be quite remarkable. It’s a very encouraging time.”
For the record, the Church of the Sojourners is, in fact, a bona fide church, in the legal, non-profit, 501(c)3 sense of the word. The rationale behind this, according to Zoe, “is the idea that a church is people who are deeply invested in each other’s lives. Our church is not just Sunday worship. It’s being deeply committed, deeply there for each other in extraordinary ways. So the whole vision and theology around this community is that church can be more than how traditional American Christianity imagines it to be. Our community grew out of the deeper, bigger vision of what church should be.”
Church of the Sojourners takes its stand against Western culture’s hyper-individualism by covenanting with one another to be present and committed to each other with a strong sense of permanence. They are committed to stability. They have seen how American transience is destabilizing to families and churches.
“I love our covenant,” says Zoe. “I think it’s really beautiful. It talks about abandoning ourselves to God in service to one another. It’s that kind of self-sacrificing love that we’re trying to live out with particular people in a particular place. This is not a big theoretical concept. This is very practical, and that’s why I love it.”

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A common joy mentioned by members of Church of the Sojourners is the practical love and support that ebbs and flows throughout the community. Parents appreciate the many blessings that surrogate aunts and uncles bestow upon their children. Singles like having families to plug into and children to play with. The young appreciate the experience of the elderly, and the elderly receive valuable support from the young.
“The sense of extended family is very important to me,” one member said. “I don’t feel isolated. I can’t imagine not having these people around.”
Lee spoke about one memorable birthday celebration.
“Rebecca, my housemate, was turning ten years old,” he said, “and she was big into Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. So we planned a city-wide scavenger hunt, where we’d have people from the community stationed throughout the city playing different gods and goddesses. I was supposed to be Poseidon, and I was out at the Pacific Ocean. Before Rebecca and the others arrived, I received a text message of what I was to read as Poseidon. So the kids showed up and I walked out into the waves, which were really big and choppy that day. I was really acting the part. I was shouting, ‘Come into the ocean and play. Have fun!’ The waves were crashing and the kids were all excited. Then just as I raised my phone to read my part, Rebecca threw her arm up and it hit my hand, and my phone went flying up into the air, and it was gone. Immediately gone. I lunged and grabbed in the water, but it wasn’t there. The waves had just sucked it away. Obviously, I abandoned the Poseidon script, but we still had a lot of fun that day.”
Just for the record, that’s why Lee’s phone service went so quickly from five bars to sand bars.
Lee has more to say about both the ups and the downs of living in community: “It seems to me that the longer I stay a part of this community, the wider and deeper range of emotions I experience. I’ve had moments when I expect people to be there for me, and then they don’t show up. It can be hard, because community has the expectation that these people that surround you are going to be God’s palpable, practical hands and feet, to be there for you, to serve you, to love you. But yet there’s something that’s lost in translation at times when people’s sin and people’s brokenness get in the way. That helps keep me grounded in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because the community is not my savior. Jesus Christ is my Savior.”

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Stability is an important value to Sojourners members, who have covenanted to be together for as long as God allows. They understand that God’s richest blessings for community don’t happen overnight.
“I really enjoy watching the kids grow up,” says Zoe. “I also love watching the spiritual growth, how people grow and change over time. I like seeing trajectories. I like seeing long stories, and this is a good place to see long stories. I love being a part of that. I love having people to worship and pray with, day after day, in both mundane and spiritual ways. That’s very satisfying to me. It feels like a rich life. Rich is the word that always comes to mind. It feels rich. When you have rich food, it has a lot of flavor. There’s a lot of stuff going on. It has a lot of content, a lot of meatiness, a lot of complexity. Even when life here is hard, it’s not boring and it’s not meaningless. I feel like our life here is chock-full of meaningfulness. Even when things are at their hardest, I never feel like it’s without purpose. I never say, ‘Why are we doing this? Why are we beating ourselves up?’ It always feels like we’re trying to do something that matters. We may be struggling or failing at that, but we’re trying to live lives that are giving to God in the best way that we can imagine. We’re trying to do that. We may not be very good at it. We may even be terrible at it. But our intentions are to do something that matters. That just really makes life rich to me. It’s meaningful. Yeah. It’s rich.”
Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10, NLT)
That’s exactly how I felt that night while singing Christmas carols to grinning folks out on the streets. I don’t remember seeing any silver or gold out there, but I do know that it sure felt rich.

NEW BOOK on Community: Chapter 1

Finding Intentional Community; Your Journey Home, by James Werning (Wipf & Stock Publishers)

SAMPLE CHAPTER – Please Do Not Copy or Distribute

Chapter One: The Journey Begins Here

Hey.
I know you.
Weren’t you on that hike the other day?
No, that wasn’t it . . .
Oh, I remember now!
We used to go to church together. You know, back in . . .
Yeah, that’s it . . .
Wow . . . What a flashback. It’s great to see you again . . .
It has been a long time. What have you been up to? . . .
We had some great times back then. Remember hanging out with . . . Yeah, how could I forget? Do you still hear from . . . ?
Not me. I lost touch with all of them. So what brought you here? . . .
Me? I’ve been all over the map. But I feel like I’m settling in now. How about you? Do you plan to stay here awhile? . . .
Well, I’ll be honest. I’m tired of moving. I’m sick of leaving friends behind. I miss some of those guys who I don’t talk to anymore. Do you know what I mean? . . .
Then you might understand some of the deeper things I’ve been thinking about lately. I’d dump it on you, but you probably don’t want to hear about . . .
Really? Well, okay then. This is going to sound like a fish saying, “I just discovered water,” but let me begin by saying that I finally got cars figured out.
That’s right: automobiles.
Stick with me, now.
Obviously, I always understood the great part about cars. When Henry Ford cranked up his assembly line, the world became much smaller. People began driving to jobs and places they couldn’t walk to before. But “automobility,” as they call it, made it possible for spouses, parents, and children to drive right out of their family’s lives. It made it possible for the “Haves” to leave the “Have-Nots” in ghettos, rather than sticking around and trying to make the neighborhood a better place for everybody. It became easy for friends to leave friends behind . . . for people to run away from things they’d be better off facing.
And think about the church we used to go to. Remember how people would drive a half hour to church, work forty minutes in another direction, and take the kids to school and shop in totally different directions? Everybody was so busy driving all over the place.
People can’t build decent friendships while spending so much time on the road. Not healthy friendships, in my opinion. That’s one reason why I moved, because my friends didn’t have much time for me. And of course, I didn’t have much time for them either.
Besides, I was always drawn to the adventure of the open highway. After graduating from high school, that was my great escape. I tore up the West on my motorcycle. Of course, I was also running from the ghosts of my childhood.
I remember being at a laundromat way out in western Nebraska when a tall, red-faced, John Wayne-type character walked in. I secretly called him “Big Red.” He was a talkative dude, and he told me about working in just about every state in the union. He was presently headed for Detroit.
“Is that your hometown?” I asked.
“No,” Big Red said. Then turning his face to the horizon, he said in his big, deep voice, “I live where I lay my hat.”
I chuckled, wondering what he was running from. But in all honesty, I wasn’t much different from Big Red. I went out the door that day humming, “On the Road Again.”
Until recently, I even took pride in my ability to pull up roots so easily. Doesn’t the culture say that only losers stay put? You have to jump fast and far to grab the best opportunities, whether you’re reaching for school, career, property, or fortune. You gotta keep moving. Don’t get me going, or I’ll start singing about how I plan to escape from this dead-end town called Troubleville.
Now, I’m not saying that automobility is all bad. And it’s obviously not the only factor contributing to cultural dysfunction.
But imagine our great-grandparents living within walking distance of their closest friends and family . . . for all of their lives. That lifestyle must have held a lot of challenges and blessings.
My ears perk up when people talk about living with long-term relationships, just like they did in the old days. I meet people who have lived in one house for decades, and it seems like I’m talking to someone from a black and white TV show.
“What’s it like to live in the same place for so long?” I ask.
To them, of course, it’s nothing special.
If they’re surrounded by healthy relationships, I see the benefits they receive from being in a stable network of friends and family.
My spirit tells me that something about that permanence is good and true.
And I want it.

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I feel as if connectedness and stability are forgotten treasures needing to be rediscovered today. But let’s not get overly nostalgic about it. Lots of people in your great-grandparent’s neighborhood felt trapped. If you had been there, I could definitely see you ducking behind your grandma’s house to avoid some of the quirky characters.
Moreover, if you were to visit a tight-knit community today, haloed saints will not greet you and angels will not sing “hallelujah.” Eventually, you’ll discover real humans there with real human traits.
Just think about that church we used to attend. What if we had never moved away? I’m not mentioning any names, but I had issues with some of the people there. You did too, as I recall. What if we’d stayed put? What if we had been forced to work through those issues, rather than jumping ship and sailing out of their lives? What if we had achieved what it says in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony”?
This may sound pompous, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Some of my friends in that town would have been better off today if I’d stayed and not allowed our relationships to die. And I would have been better off as well, because of their positive influence on me. The best relationships take time, and a lot of it. They take the weathering of all kinds of storms. Deep, abiding friendships aren’t possible for people who spend all their time commuting, changing churches and clubs, or moving from place to place.
What’s more, I now understand that relationships are the only way for spiritual gifts to mature in each one of us. We don’t obtain love, joy, peace, and all the fruits of the spirit by sitting alone in our rooms or by visiting sacred places. These fruits are crafted in community, as our roots and branches intertwine with others.

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The way I see it, life is a journey, and that journey is shared with others. I have always believed that the journey is not over until we reach our final resting place. But until recently, I never knew that God designed a resting place for his people right here on earth . . . a foreshadow of the final resting place in heaven.
This place of rest is actually the House of God, a community of people whose glory exceeds that of any building made by human hands.
While we journey on earth, we can truly have a home base with a deep sense of permanence and connectedness . . . on earth. This connectedness is shared with other people, and especially with followers of Christ who join us in the journey, because the Bible says that his Spirit ties us together, soul to soul. There is continuity in this connectedness and this resting place. It extends from these finite days on earth into the infinite future. It is a sense of permanence with the people in my community. These people with whom I laugh, cry, work, struggle, play, and pray will be my cosmic companions from one world into the next, beginning with the kingdom of God on earth . . . and extending into his kingdom in heaven.
So in one sense, heaven begins right here and now, within my Christian community.
You might ask, How in the world can we expect to discover relationships that foreshadow heaven? That honestly sounds unattainable.
It’s a good question. Still, when I think of my wife, my kids, and the handful of brothers and sisters who might have died for me, I begin to believe that these kinds of heavenly relationships are actually possible.

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All those deep thoughts about connectedness and stability led me to the next step, which was to look seriously into intentional Christian communities . . . and what I discovered gave me pause to think. I observed some fascinating experiments in tribal living in a post-modern culture.
I have to admire people who truly and absolutely love living in an economically deprived neighborhood—or on a farm—solely because they are sharing life with people to whom they have committed themselves. I can’t wait to share their stories with you! These people value friendships more than house and possessions. They bear one another’s burdens. Sure, they struggle just like anyone else. Nobody said these folks are perfect, but they are keeping their commitments to each other, and that’s rare these days. They are living out what I’ve previously only read about in the Bible. I want to have relationships like that in my life! But that’s only possible if you are intentionally committed to each other on a daily basis.

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It might be helpful to pause here momentarily, to establish a clear definition of intentional Christian communities, in case that term is new to you.
David Janzen of Reba Place Fellowship community writes, “Our working definition of intentional Christian community is a group of people deliberately sharing life in order to follow more closely the teachings and practices of Jesus and his disciples. The more essential dimensions of life that are shared—such as daily prayer and worship, possessions, life-decisions, living in proximity, friendships, common work or ministry, meals, care for children and elderly—the more intentional is the community.”
So you don’t get spooked, it’s not like you move onto a compound where people tell you, “Think this. Drink this. Lose your mind to our control.” That kind of cultic control is usually found in communes with a strong leader who lacks accountability . . . which is antithetical to the leadership styles of the communities that I explored.
Moreover, you don’t actually lose anything by moving from independence to healthy interdependence. You actually gain a lot. And there are all different levels of commitment. Each community is as unique as people. Some you will love, and others you might not care for. That’s the beauty; these communities have a wide diversity of thinking and practice, suitable for all different kinds of people.
For example, some communities all worship together and expect members to have similar religious beliefs. Other communities encourage members to attend whatever church they prefer outside the community.
Some communities share part or all of their finances. Others simply require monthly dues, like a homeowners association. A few don’t require any financial commitment at all.
Some are urban, some are suburban, and others are rural.
Some work together in businesses or on farms, while others expect you to find your own work.
Some communities own apartments or houses for the use of members. In other communities, members are responsible to build, buy, or rent their own housing.
Most communities are governed by democratic consensus, while some have a leadership team.
You could move across the continent to join a community, or you might choose to develop one right where you are at, never leaving your home, church, job, and neighborhood.
Communities are as diverse as the people who inhabit them.
If this sounds interesting to you, stick with me. I would love to help point you in the direction of a community that interests you. I’ll even help you plan a visit, since that’s the best way to personally check a community out.
Alternately, you might hear what I have to say and then consider developing your own intentional community, right where you’re at. I will point you to some excellent resources that can help you do that. I will also tell you about some umbrella organizations for intentional communities. These associations shepherd the communities, providing them with the support they need to thrive. If you do decide to start a community, you may want to get plugged into one of these associations.

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That’s enough of my pontifications and perambulations.
I haven’t heard your story yet.
What do you find intriguing about intentional communities?
Perhaps, like me, you yearn for authentic and abiding relationships.
Maybe you believe you’ll find these more authentic relationships in community.
But you’re not sure, and you need to know more.
If you feel as if it’s time to end a chapter of independence or instability, then possibly your perfect home is described in the coming pages.
This may be the end of a long journey.
It may be the beginning of a new season of rootedness.
Your dream of cultivating deep roots may be coming true.
Be forewarned, though: It won’t be all fun and games. You’ll find sweat and tears, in addition to laughter and joy.
But I suspect that at the end of your seeking, you’ll wake up one day and say, “This is the best family and friends I could ever ask for.”
Is this journey for you?
Is it time for you to get plugged into community?
Is it time to make that final move?
Well, keep turning pages, and together we’ll learn the answers to these questions and more.
Now enjoy the ride, because there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a long-awaited journey home.

SAMPLE CHAPTER – Please do not copy or distribute.

Old Salem, Bog Garden, Donkeys and Goat

We found a darling little bed and breakfast on a mini-farm at the edge of Greensboro, NC. It had two donkeys, a fat goat, and three horse-sized dogs that casually peered down upon the dinner table and attempted to sit in Joan’s lap. We even paddled kayaks around a big pond.

Greensboro has an intriguing Bog Garden and board walk that we explored, as we were chased by swamp monsters and dangerous gases. Then we stumbled upon Old Salem, a terrific miniature Williamsburg right here in our home state. Come to learn that their Moravian history is smack-dab in the center of my research into community. Check it out sometime – they have quite a story.
donkeys & goat
Old Salem

Make Yourself at Home-Koinonia

We’ve only been here four days, but it’s still difficult saying goodbye to new friends. Yesterday evening, I had a lot of work to catch up on in the camper, but the magnetic attraction of community drew me to the playground area where both kids and adults were gathered. A handful of ninth-graders who had come to Koinonia to attend a peace and justice camp were kicking a ball around.

Joan and I sat at a picnic table chatting with Marilyn, enjoying the cooler evening. She told us about the “gnat line” that stretches across Georgia, above which gnats are not a problem. Unfortunately, Koinonia is below the gnat line. Everyone we meet here is easy to talk with.

Earlier in the day, I was in the same area when one of the parents came by with a mildly urgent tone to his voice, wondering if we’d seen his energetic toddler Judah. Nobody had, but a few people helped him take up the hunt. This is a pretty safe place for kids, apart from the highway, and that’s where Dad headed next. Not one minute later, Marilyn came sauntering up from the opposite direction with Judah in tow.

A young women here told me that one of the things she liked best at Koinonia were the children. She doesn’t have any of her own, but she can get one anytime she likes. That’s a beautiful part of community that Joan and I experienced with four kids overseas with Youth With a Mission; the beautiful interaction between kids from like-minded families, as they flowed seamlessly from home to home. Parents at Koinonia have the assurance that they are surrounded by a tribe of adults who will defend the children as fiercely as their natural parents will. Plus it’s a whole lot of fun for non-parents.
Singing

Koinonia Farm and Community

Koinonia was erasing racial barriers long before the civil rights movement started. Since the community’s founding in 1942, founder Clarence Jordan treated all people fairly, insisting that blacks and whites live, work, eat and worship together. That didn’t sit well with the Klan, who bombed their farm stands, fired shotguns into their homes and organized a massive boycott that nearly ended their existence. With support from the north, Koinonia was able to survive the boycott by building up a mail order pecan business. “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia,” was Clarence’s slogan.

Koinonia’s ministry building houses for impoverished neighbors grew into the international non-profit known as Habitat for Humanity. Today, Koinonia is guided by a dedicated core of eight members, with the support of many longterm friends, neighbors, interns, staff and volunteers. They host many visitors with generous hospitality.

Joan and I were glad recipients of their hospitality. We feel very much at home, having more than enough private space and time. We are comfortable going on walks and enjoying the beautiful land and pecan orchards.

While taking photos near the common kitchen and eating area, I was approached by an older man named Nash. He had lived in the community for about seven years and now helped out whenever he could. He convinced me to postpone the work I had intended to do and instead ride in his van for a tour to Picnic Hill. There we walked to a mind of earth that he said was the gravesite of Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat. Nash said that Clarence Jordan’s grave and the graves of both their spouses we’re just beyond in the woods, all unmarked as they had requested.

Nash told me about the events of Millard’s death, and how Nash and a friend had sweated buckets while hand-digging his grave. Under every stone I discover another story here.
Clarence Jordan and friend
Nash on Picnic Hill

A former US President, Koinonia Community, and Wal-Mart … all in one day!

What an epic day in the Deep South! We awoke early in the Wal-Mart parking lot at Americas, Georgia (after a 6-hour drive and 5-hour sleep), boiled some instant oatmeal in our groovy Turtle van, and were thundering down the road to Plains by 6:30.

Why such an early departure? To meet with our 39th president of the United States—Jimmy Carter—who has been teaching Sunday morning Bible classes at Maranatha Baptist Church since the 1980s. I still cannot find words for my astonishment over a world leader who would teach the Bible to barely 250 people in a tiny church at a speck on the map in the middle of nowhere. No cell phone service here! But plenty of peanuts. I barely remember him serving a term in the White House, and news images of him hammering shingles on Habitat homes.

I was deeply impressed by Mr. Carter’s earnest preamble which was more political than religious, being a heartfelt cry for peace. This is something he has always valued highly. At the Jimmy Carter museum and boyhood home, we learned much about the many ways he has brought health and peace to the oppressed people of the world.

Next, we landed at Koinonia Farm, the first intentional community on our visitation list. They survived KKK bombings and boycotts back in the day when southerners didn’t take kindly to whites and blacks living, working and praying together. Hospitality has always been a high value at Koinonia, which was evident in the lack of awkward moments. We were quickly oriented and given our space to move freely. Potluck dinner and worship was perfect. Over dinner, Bren simply expressed the high value they place on connecting over food, reconnecting with God, and conveying the benefits we receive to the world in words and actions of peace and reconciliation.

Now we are looking forward to a restful sleep in our comfy camper. They have provided us with the perfect spot at the edge of wide open fields and pecan orchards. It’s been a full day, and I’m looking forward to a tour and conducting interviews tomorrow.
Jimmy Carter
Walmart Camping