Chris: After our whistlestop trip to Alterna, we drove to the southernmost part of our American tour: Koinonia Farm, in Americus, South Georgia.
Koinonia Farm is a pretty unique place. Formed half a century ago by some white farmers, it was an oasis of progressive freedom in the otherwise staunchy conservative South. Workers taken on at a daily rate were paid the same, regardless of their skin colour. Suffice it to say, this was not a popular attitude to have during the federally imposed desegregation of schools; throughout the 60s, Koinonia had regular protests, and warning shooting from the local branch of the Klu Klux Klan.
“Faith is not belief in spite of evidence but a life in scorn of the consequences.”
Clarence Jordan, Koinonia Co-founder
Katherine: Our time there was one of peace. The children got to play on the swings, muse at chicks and pigs and walk through fields – they were pleased that for a few days they were free to run around and not travel in a car.
I, Katherine, chose to visit Koinonia. There are many communities we could have visited but this was the only expression that operated a farm largely through interns who gave their time to come, seek and learn. I wanted to see how Christians worked together for a common cause, that wasn’t spreading the gospel in the traditional way.
I love this model of community. In many ways it’s like a monastery. The bell was rung for prayer time several times a day, everyone works hard to keep the place going and people do visit on retreat. The escapist part of me enjoyed this place. The justice part of me was really excited about all of the fair trade items being produced there (particularly the chocolate!)
This model is not what God is calling us to – but maybe…
Growing our own veg is.
Being more intentional about fair trade is.
Stopping to pray during the day is.
Enjoying nature is.
Sharing meals with each other is.
Living lives that attract people to God is.
Chris: Shared themes seem to be coming to the surface throughout our trip. During our stay with Alterna, Anton spoke to us about silence, about times of meditative contemplation. On arrival at Koinonia, the semi monastic way of life immediately struck us: bells ring throughout the day, calling us to meals or to prayer.
At 8pm, our first night, the bell rang and I began to make my way to the chapel: only to be told, “No, just take a moment”. Slipping into silence, I watched the leaves on the giant pecan trees blow in the wind. It felt like breathing. Silence; welcoming and second nature – our days in Lagrange an education in the language of God.
Unlike our previous visits, Koinonia didn’t have long periods we spent with a key visionary – here we spent our time slowly, in retreat, punctuated by every day life conversations with many of the fellow seekers living here.
Life at Koinonia is based on an “onion” structure: start as intern, committing to 3 months, then a year, then 3 years as a Novice, and then, if you feel led, lifelong as a Steward. Although the daily routine is clearly well established, the farm well run and organised, there is very little evidence of top down leadership. Literally the only time I even heard it discussed was after one morning prayer meeting.
Chatting about pizza one day – as I always do – we discovered they have a wood burning pizza oven, but no long handled pizza peels to use it with. So one morning, myself and Craig (mostly Craig) built some in the hardware shop, and I got to help cook pizza for everyone on our last evening there. Even the mozzarella was handmade, from milk provided by the farm cow!
A family of Latin American immigrants came to dinner at short notice, as they were attending a relative’s deportation hearing in the morning. It was an honour to be able to part of Koinonia’s provision of hospitality.
During our last night, around 10 of the residents came round, bringing ridiculous amounts of delicious fairtrade pecan chocolate, and we drank tea, talked about community, and suistainable farming, and about how to play a game called wink murder (winkipedia link here) until the late hours. It was a comfortable and enjoyable night, saying goodbye to another group of people that have become our friends in a heart-wrenchingly short space of time.
All in all, we will look back on our visit with fondness. A period of calm, of prayer, of earthiness, with plenty of food for thought, as we move on to our next community.
“For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other.”
Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity