By Bren Dubay
October 29th marked the 54th anniversary of Clarence Jordan’s death. As I’ve written before, he wouldn’t want us to get all silly about his birth, life, or death. But after all, he was Koinonia’s co-founder along with his wife Florence and Mabel and Martin England. Because of his writing, talks, sermons, and vision, this community continues to exist today. He passed the baton long ago. We are fortunate that he gave us a road map that we continue to follow today. So, I hope he doesn’t mind a tip of the hat from time to time.
What’s been circling in my heart and mind this anniversary is the suddenness of Clarence’s death. October 1969 was an energetic and exciting time here at Koinonia. The community had launched the Koinonia Partnership Housing Movement, was building the first home, and had a plan for twenty-nine more. Those houses were going to be sold at no interest and no profit. The monthly payments would be small so that poor folk could afford them. In the midst of this huge and exciting undertaking, his heart stopped. No one expected Clarence’s death.
This month, while visiting family in San Antonio, I could have lost my spouse and my oldest son unexpectedly. Retrieving a backpack from the car parked just outside, Jim came in to tell us that one of the windows in the car had been smashed. He left the backpack and went back outside, followed shortly by our son, Dillon. I heard a pop. A blowout? No, that didn’t sound quite like a blowout. Pop. Pop. Pop. Dillon came running frantically into the house, shouting for me to call 911, that someone was in the car and had pulled a knife, and that someone else was shooting at them.
“Is your dad hurt?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Are you hurt?”
By then, he had the 911 Dispatcher on the phone, and we were both racing upstairs to see about the four-year-old asleep in his bed. I experienced full-blown internal panic while trying to stay outwardly calm near the toddler. I did not know if Jim had been stabbed or shot or both.
Later, I learned that Jim had followed his training and ran serpentine between parked cars away from the shooter. A neighbor came out, and he told him to get back inside and call the police. He then realized Dillon could be stabbed or shot, so he ran back toward the car.
Dillon had run “toward” the shooter to get back to the house. He told me later, “My mother and my four-year-old son were in the house. I had to get back to you.”
No one was hurt. It is an incident that this family is not going to forget.
My understanding of that day at Koinonia has grown a little more deeply. I can more vividly now imagine a stunned community reeling in grief—the unexpectedness of it all. I think of that wave Clarence gave Florence hanging clothes outside as he left for his writing shack on that cool, crisp day in 1969. It was a special wave he reserved for her alone, a sign of affection between the two of them. I am glad he waved. It must have been an image that Florence held in her heart for the rest of her life.
Embrace the ones you love every time you have the chance. You never know.
Appreciate you, Clarence. Thank you for your vision, for getting us going.