Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.

Rachel Held Evans holding a yellow coffee mug

Rachel Held Evans was born on June 8, 1981 in Birmingham, Alabama. She was raised in a traditional Southern Baptist home. When she was 14, her family moved to Dayton, Tennessee, home of Bryan College. She attended Bryan College and received a BA in English literature. After college, she moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee to work in journalism. She continued writing after moving back to Dayton in 2004.

Her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town (later renamed Faith Unraveled) chronicled her own faith journey as she began to question the certainty of faith her Southern Baptist roots prized. She continued to write blog posts, articles, and more books. Her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood shared about her year-long experiment to live as a “Biblical” woman. She used this experiment to explore deeper the role of women in the Bible as well as in modern American Christianity. This book brought her national attention and one of her famous rallying cries to encourage fellow women: “Eshet Chayil” or “Woman of Valor!”

From the beginning, Rachel Held Evans used her platform to ask big questions about faith and life. Most of her questions centered around who was “allowed in” to the hallowed halls of evangelical Christianity. She called for full inclusion of women in all levels of ministry. She advocated for more voices to be part of the conversations of faith: women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and anyone else who was traditionally marginalized by evangelicalism. Her questions, doubts, and calls for inclusion were met with enormous resistance from her fellow evangelicals. But she did not allow this resistance to silence her. She never shied away from a debate on Twitter, always defending those who were marginalized by the traditional patriarchy of white evangelicalism. But she did so with grace and without resentment or bitterness. She didn’t throw out the Bible or other foundations of her faith. She wrestled, doubted, and treated them with enough respect to question them constantly.

“I am a Christian,” I concluded, “because the story of Jesus is still the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.”

With her final two books, Searching for Sunday and Inspired, Evans wrote about her experiences with church and with the Bible. She continued to wrestle with her faith, but kept coming back to the story of Jesus and the radical love he taught. She worked to create spaces for others who were questioning their faith or who were pushed to the margins. She and Nadia Bolz-Weber began the Why Christian conference in 2015. In 2018, she and Sarah Bessey created the Evolving Faith conference as a space for fellow “questioners and doubters” to gather and feel less alone. This idea of creating space for others who felt alone in their questions and their doubts was one of the strongest themes of Rachel Held Evans’ life and work.

… Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.

On May 4, 2019, Rachel Held Evans died unexpectedly at age 37. Immediately after her death, thousands of people shared how she created space for their questions and doubts and ultimately allowed them to find a faith that was deeper, broader, and more inclusive. She fought for a seat at the table of traditional evangelical Christianity and when they would not allow her to bring along everyone, she built her own table that was ever bigger, ever wider, to make room for everyone.

This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.

Illustrated portrait of Rachel Held Evans in the style of an icon
Portrait by Gillian Gamble