A farm for the kingdomBy Joanna Shenk
What do pecans, the Cotton Patch Gospel, Habitat for Humanity and Jubilee Partners all have in common? For some Mennonites the answer is obvious — Koinonia Partners. For others, an explanation is desired.
This fall Koinonia Partners will begin celebrating its 70th birthday with the Clarence Jordan Symposium Sept. 28-29. In 1942 Clarence and Florence Jordan, along with one other couple, founded Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga. Koinonia rooted itself with four core commitments: Treat all human beings with dignity and justice. Choose love over violence. Share all possessions and live simply. Be stewards of the land and its natural resources. From the beginning Koinonia lived as a racially integrated Christian community in the deep South.
Out of this context, Clarence Jordan wrote the Cotton Patch Gospel, a translation of New Testament scriptures into Southern vernacular. Jordan had a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek.
Many Mennonites have been a part of Koinonia. Americus Mennonite Fellowship has a relationship with Koinonia, and during the draft years Koinonia was an alternative service site for Mennonites. Still today many of these volunteers return to help with the farm’s pecan packaging in the fall. I would love to hear stories from MWR readers about their connections to Koinonia.
Habitat for Humanity had its beginning at Koinonia when in the 1970s Jordan and former millionaire Millard Fuller began brainstorming ways to provide adequate housing for their neighbors. In 1979 three families from Koinonia began Jubilee Partners in Comer, Ga., a community committed to hosting refugees from war-torn countries and advocating for nonviolence.
Kirk Lyman-Barner, organizer and chair of the symposium, studied for a year at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and is a former member of Parkview Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va. He and his spouse, Cori, met in a conflict resolution class at EMS taught by John Paul Lederach.
“The legacy of Clarence Jordan and Koinonia have so much to offer the church today,” Lyman-Barner told me. “We must pass on the importance of this experiment in nonviolence and racial and economic justice.” I learned that the Jordans described Koinonia as a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.”
Mennonite-related presenters at the symposium include Vincent Harding, historian and friend of Clarence Jordan; Ted Swartz, actor; and David Hooker, professor of conflict studies at Eastern Mennonite University.
At the symposium I will explore ways Mennonite Church USA can more actively support and learn from Koinonia. I encourage other Mennonites to join me at the event.
Clarence Jordan once said, “In the early days, Christianity was not an organization, it was a movement. And if Christianity is ever to have any semblance of its former power and meaning, it must cease to be an organization and again become a movement … Then we might catch the vision of Jesus, the great revolutionary.”
What if we had a category for “kinship groups” or “discipleship partners” in our area conferences? Although Koinonia and other such communities may never carry the Mennonite name, they are important places of formation for Mennonites, challenging us to live out what we say we believe.
Joanna Shenk is associate for interchurch relations for Mennonite Church USA. She lives with the Prairie Wolf Collective, a co-housing community, in Elkhart, Ind.
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