By: Lora Browne
The impact has been life long — the lifestyle, all that I learned at Koinonia Farm. Rather than a reflection on all that, I will offer “From each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her need” continues to guide me. Knowing Jesus was a radical has also been a guiding awareness and sometimes made it hard to reconcile what “Christianity” was in the rest of the world.
Memories from 1949-1963: Alma Jackson and Henry Pope working in the old tractor shed and laughing with Norman Long. Norman building feeders for the pigs and calves and letting me play in the skeleton of them.
There were those mornings standing in line to catch the bus to Thalean School, walking home in the afternoon rather than riding the bus back. I remember summers and all of us in a long line moving irrigation pipes at 5:00 a.m. Before sunrise I got to milk cows with Con Browne, and feed the kittens in the barn. I picked grapes, squash, peaches watermelon and hoed cotton and peanuts in the sun. I worked in the bottom garden and husked corn, and snapped beans under the oak tree by the big kitchen then canned those foods in the summertime.
I rang the bell for meals and meetings. I loved those Saturday night picnics on Picnic Hill in the summertime. Worship service was daily at 5:30 PM. Afterwards, we would take supper home from the main dining room, except Saturday nights when we all ate together (as we always did at noon).
Throwing hay bales onto the koby wagon, then offloading those bales into the hay barn. Gathering eggs, then cleaning, grading and packing them for market. I got my egg grading license at 10 years old, and was so proud of it. I sorted pecans, and packaged them was and I was part of making those first batches of “pecandy.” Yum!
Riding Danny the horse is a happy memory as is summer camp learning about Indians and passing the tests to become a member of the tribe. We put up a thirty-foot teepee. I remember playing volleyball and being shot at bullets flying overhead in the house we lived in (now Wittkamper house). We knew we didn’t talk about it at school. Then the court case where we were told that we were “contaminating the other children because of (our) religious beliefs” and couldn’t attend Americus High School. An ACLU lawyer defended us. We started school nine weeks late having no help to catch up.
Court case with ACLU lawyer about “contaminating the other children because of (our) religious beliefs”. Into Americus High School 9 weeks late, and having to catch up without help. Knowing that Koinonia was a place of much love and support always. And that people within Koinonia acted from their understanding of the New Testament and spoke out for justice and Jesus dedicated to peaceful means of interaction.
I clearly remember the fellowship, the welcoming of people who passed through, whether they were civil rights activists, church people from all over the world, or religious groups (“Children of Light”); Dorothy Day, Bill Kunsler, Charles Sherrod, the Freedom Singers, and many, many more. I remember the day Clarence and Con took Jan and me to the Black Church in Albany because Martin Luther King was speaking there. What a shocking and glorious experience!!
Bible study was at 5:30 a.m. with Clarence and the college students who came during the summer. I remember the arrival of the Wittkampers, the Atkinsons, Nelsons, Johnsons, Eustaces, Campbells, Veldheusens, Mandels, Baers, Dorrells and the beautiful Butler wedding in Wedding Valley.
Fifty-gallon drums of white clover honey came from Forest River, wooden toys and blocks from Rifton Playthings and folks from Evanston folk came to help. And I remember how heart broken I was to leave with my parents in 1963.
KOINONIA FARM. I am very fortunate to have grown up there. It gave me love, and taught me tolerance and justice, as well as set an example for people all over the world. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
If you heard about, read about or visited Koinonia Farm between 1999 and 2009, you likely know who David and Ellie Castle are and the positive impact they have had on this community. A group of us happily traveled to Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania recently to celebrate Ellie’s 90th birthday. She is as energetic, quick-witted, and inspiring as she has always been. Ten years ago, when we celebrated her 80th birthday, David was still alive and it was hard to imagine Koinonia without them. Later that same year David passed (he is buried on Picnic Hill here) and in 2009, Ellie moved away to be near their children. We miss them.
In agriculture, a demonstration plot is a way to teach or experiment with new farming methods. The Jordans and the Englands used the phrase when describing Koinonia as “a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God” and “an experiment in Christian living.” It is clear that a demonstration plot must have other demonstration plots from which to learn. David and Ellie were and continue to be just that for us..
From Ellie’s party, we drove to Farmington, Pennsylvania to spend a few days at New Meadow Run Bruderhof Community. Koinonia and the Bruderhof have a history together that began in the 1940s. When Bruderhof members came from Paraguay (via Germany then England; learn their story at www.bruderhof.org) to explore moving to the United States, Koinonia served as a place of welcome and support. When Koinonia suffered persecution in the 50s and 60s, the Bruderhof offered help and refuge. Several of the families fleeing the violence heaped on Koinonia became members of the Bruderhof.
For a period of time — almost twenty years — our communities lost touch, but in 2011 we were reunited. Come to Koinonia today and you will likely see Bruderhof in our midst pitching in to help do whatever is needed. The “doing” for one another is meaningful, but it is the “being” with one another that brings us ever closer together. The relationships deepen through our visits, conversations, questions, cards, letters and we are being shaped and transformed by our mutual encouragement of one another. The Bruderhof is a demonstration plot for Koinonia.
Today so many of us don’t remain in a place and with a people long enough for them to take deep root in us. We all need demonstration plots. My hope for us all is that we find them, spend time with them and allow who they are — and maybe sometimes what they say and do —- to prep our hearts. We all need those who preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.
But you, brothers of mine, hold on till the Lord’s movement gets going. Look how the farmer awaits the precious harvest of his land, staying by it until it receives both spring and summer rains. You, too, hold on and prep your hearts, because the Lord’s movement is right here. — The Cotton Patch Gospel, James 5
The Castles and the Bruderhof are our spring and summer rains.
President Carter graciously wrote a letter to be read at the opening of the 2018 Clarence Jordan Symposium:
Rosalynn and I have long admired Clarence and Florence Jordan and the work of Koinonia Farm.
Clarence spoke with an unwavering prophetic voice. He was not one to mince words; the man could turn a phrase. He firmly rejected materialism, militarism, and racism as obstacles to authentic faith, yet he never took part in the public demonstrations of the Civil Rights era. He believed we could all affect greater change in this world through living an authentic Christian life. Koinonia was evidence of that life and still is today.
At Koinonia Farm in 1942, a group of Christians came together for the express purpose of exemplifying the teachings of Jesus. Now, 75 years later, a group of Christians continue to carry on what is perhaps Clarence Jordan’s most enduring legacy, his ongoing invitation to participate in the love and life of Christ.
Welcome to The Clarence Jordan Symposium and this 2018 celebration. Join us as we wish Koinonia Farm a happy 75th birthday. We hope you are grateful for this time to reflect once more on the Jordan’s call to fully live out our part of the gospel story.