I turned the corner and spotted this friend's father -- the founding headmaster of our school, the science teacher who has so inspired my oldest son. He waved a funny wave because he's a very funny guy and on he went to deliver the rest of my friend's kids -- his grandchildren -- to her house.
In a split second I was overwhelmed by the layers of relationships and love that are woven into my life.
At twenty-two I joined the Alleluia Community here in Augusta, Georgia. These friends -- their children, their grandchildren -- are all part of the life I live as a member of an ecumenical, lay, charismatic community.
Ecumenical, lay, charismatic community -- what in the world does all that mean?
Alleluia Community began in 1973. This community -- and scores like it around the world -- grew out of the Charismatic Renewal, a world-wide move of the Holy Spirit that began in the early 1900s. Let me just say from the get-go that I have lived the Charismatic Renewal much more than I have studied it. One day I was rifling through books at Wal-mart and I stumbled upon The Charismatic Century by Jack Hayford. Chapter one begins:
On January 1, 1901, the first day of the new century, from the Vatican, Pope Leo XIII invoked the Holy Spirit by singing the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus" (Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blest) dedicating the twentieth century to the Holy Spirit. That same day on the other side of the world, a group of students in Charles Parham's tiny Topeka, Kansas, Bible School, experienced a Pentecostal outpouring when a young woman was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke "in tongues."
In the early 1970s a Charismatic prayer group began to meet once a week at a local Catholic high school here in Augusta. A core group felt called to greater commitment, felt a tug toward community. They read about the New Testament churches breaking bread together and putting all things in common. They sought the support of Christian brothers and sisters beyond Sunday morning at church and these Thursday night prayer meetings.
But how do lay people do community? That seemed the realm of consecrated brothers and sisters, not of married couples with growing families.
The group began to pray and to discern what, in the practical realm, God was calling them to do. They gathered one February night to share a meal. Snow began to fall and fall and fall. This is Augusta, Georgia. We get snow every year of two. Last year we were treated to two "wintry mixes" in the span of a month, a rare occurrence indeed. In February 1973 Augusta got thirteen inches of snow -- the greatest snowfall in the city's recorded history.
Snowed in for the weekend, this small group talked about forming a community. In between romping in the snow with the kids and doing loads and loads of soaked laundry, they drafted a document now known as the Alleluia Covenant -- a summary of what they felt God was calling them to build.
"We are called to be a people of praise," the Alleluia Covenant reads. "God has destroyed our isolation and joined us together."
Alleluia began with twelve families and over the past thirty-nine years has grown to around 800 members. It is a lay community, although there are many ordained priests and ministers of various denominations. It is an ecumenical community, meaning members come from a dozen or so different Christian denominations. It is a Charismatic community, meaning we particularly recognize the third person of the Holy Trinity and the unique graces that comes through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
But what is community to me? It is:
- Walking through some trying, trying circumstances one afternoon. Feeling like I would positively suffocate from the pressure. Learning afterwards that a friend set his computer alarm to beep every ten minutes for three hours so that he could pray for us during this ordeal. Being driven to tears when I realized, once again, the depth of love and commitment we share here in Alleluia.
- Taking ninety minutes out of a busy night to attend a prayer meeting where we sang and praised the Lord. Arriving there feeling overwhelmed and positively spent. Leaving there with a renewed awareness of God's deep love.
- Looking out my back door to see two dozen kids playing Frisbee or baseball or soccer. Seeing a teenage boy push my two-year-old daughter, Ainsley, all over our enormous shared yard in her little jeep. Hearing her chortling with glee.
- Listening to my ten-year-old son, Kolbe, in morning prayers list the fruits of the Holy Spirit -- love, peace, patience, joy, goodness, meekness, and self-control. Knowing full well that this is nothing I've taught him, but something he learned from one of my neighbors who also happens to be his teacher.
- Realizing I'm out of oatmeal and sending Kolbe two doors down to his Godparents' house to borrow some. Laughing when I remember these same neighbors calling three times one afternoon to borrow groceries. The calls went something like this:
Kelly, we're grilling some hamburgers. Do you have a pack of buns we could borrow?
Kelly, um, we seem to be out of ketchup ...
Kelly, we just noticed we're out of hamburgers.
(The last call was a joke.)
- Calling a neighbor at 10:00 p.m. to ask for prayers. We didn't hesitate to call, and he didn't hesitate to come over.
- Having a friend call to ask about my mom's health nearly every week.
- Gathering with hundreds of friends to bury Bob V, a much loved member of Alleuia who was a father to seven and a second fathers to all of us. Remembering the day I was four months pregnant with Ainsley and overcome with nausea. Hearing a knock on the door and finding Bob V on my front porch with a pot of chicken soup.
- Sitting in a meeting with Protestants and Catholics discussing weighty and potentially divisive issues in an atmosphere of love and mutual respect. Rejoicing that my children are being raised to know that being passionate about your faith does not require you to disdain someone else's beliefs.
I sat in a prayer meeting one night and listened to a neighbor share Isaiah 55:2: Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good.
We do many good and useful things here in Alleluia Community. We carpool and exercise together. We coach each other through labor and bring meals after the baby is born. We help the elderly and care for the sick. We run a school! We camp together and consume far too much Mexican food. Good, good stuff. I love it all.
But to me all this is the icing on the cake.
"Our hearts are restless, " wrote Saint Augustine, "until they rest in you." That was written nearly 1700 years ago and is still just as apropos today. Above all, this life in Alleluia Community continually returns me to Augustine's essential premise -- that we are created to know God.
In our living room hangs a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci. Mary is holding baby Jesus. Saint Anne sits with John the Baptist . She is gracefully pointing her finger toward the heavens.
This is the essential role that Alleluia Community plays in my life: It is a tool God has used to point toward heaven, a tool to help me see His face and hear His voice. In the midst of the hurly burly that sometimes is my life, Alleluia helps me focus on the eternal, to the things of the Lord that are lasting and infinitely more satisfying than the earthly alternatives.
It is a finger gently pointing toward heaven. I am grateful I was called to live this life.