By Bren Dubay
Koinonia has lots of friends. There isn’t a building here big enough to hold them all. Likely, this plot of land we steward would not hold all of them either. So, it felt a bit odd naming the event the “Friends of Koinonia Retreat”: we knew we were going to limit the number attending to twenty to thirty people. It was the first of a series of ways to celebrate Koinonia’s 80th year. And what a celebration it was.
Capably facilitated by Marilyn McGinnis and Quayneshia Smith, the focus of the retreat was to bring to life the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To do this, we used real-life examples from Koinonia’s past and present as well as discussed how Koinonia hopes and dreams to live these Rights in the future. It is one thing to read lofty words on a page and it is another to then point to where the words are being demonstrated. Koinonia is a tiny demonstration plot but it is one of many. It helps in these trying times to know there are so many.
How is Koinonia one of these demonstration plots? If I attempted to answer that, the pages would stretch on and on and this writing could not be titled Brief Thoughts. So, I will share one point. It wasn’t even an agenda item or a Human Right explored but rather was a question asked during one of the sessions. “How do you make decisions?” I think the way we do is at the heart of our life together. And our service comes out of the life we live.
We try to help each other remember that what we are attempting to live here is bigger than any one of us. It is bigger than what we are collectively. We are here for God’s purposes. Our decision process is a spiritual one. It is about listening. Listening to ourselves individually — each of us has gifts to offer — but then letting ego go to listen to others. We say what we have to say, but then we are quiet. In that quiet, we truly listen for the way the Holy Spirit is leading. We have to be quiet in order to listen. We really have to mean it when we say we are here to serve God and God’s people. It’s a process. It has to be practiced. Day in and day out. And there has to be a great willingness to forgive because we are imperfect at this process (and a number of other things, too).
The goal is to discern how God is calling us to go forward together. It is an ongoing discernment. Other concerns and problems will arise, there is no one moment of discernment and “boom” everything is right and will never go wrong again. It is about the attitude and the approach we bring to each opportunity we have to discern together.
How do we know the Spirit is leading? If the Holy Spirit is leading, then there is a deeper sense of communion —with God and with one another. What are the fruits of our decisions? Unity – we take quite seriously Jesus’ prayer that his followers be one. Unity among us is of paramount importance. It has to be worked for again, and again, and again. Division bears no fruit or at least no edible fruit. How lacking in humility is it to impose one’s ideas through gossip, negativity, bullying, or by discrediting those who offer a different point of view? We are constantly trying to learn what humility is and then put it into practice.
Pie in the sky? Maybe. But Koinonia is still here. Eighty-years through all the ups and downs, we are still here. No, not at every point in our history have we made decisions this way. It has been an evolution to learn how to discern as the Body of Christ. It will continue to be. We’ve tried secular methods of consensus decision making and other methods, too, but as a spiritual community does it not make sense that the Holy Spirit continually be invited to lead us?
So, I want to thank all who attended the Friends of Koinonia Retreat. Your participation was inspiring and your questions set us thinking. Your question about decisions gave me this further chance to articulate how we make them. The practice has taken deep root at Koinonia but it must continue to grow ever more deeply. Perhaps we can help others if we take what we have heard in the quiet and put it into words. Hopefully we can be a demonstration plot as we work to discern together. Maybe as you watch us practice unity, fall short, get back up and try again, you will be encouraged to do the same in your own communities.
All you friends far and wide, watch for other ways to celebrate with us this year. Help us rejoice in all that is good. Your friendship motivates us to work hard doing what we can to bring light to whatever we do and wherever we go. Day in and day out.