Covenant Communities In The United States

Covenant Communities In The United States

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Covenant Communities Theophane The Rise of Charismatic The phenomenon principally through church from of Charismatic Before 1968, there were, communities to 1958, healing ministry came Community ministry among them, 233 in the United States Rush Communities communities is one that occurred movement within the Catholic days, the Catholic Episcopalian go back which in 1970, the Charismatic 1969 onwards. From its earliest Charismatic movement sparked an interest in the Christian community. of course, many intentional Christian in the United States, but only one at the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas, was clearly Charismatic at that time. In two other cases, the foundation of community preceded Charismatic Renewal. The origins of the predominantly Charismatic Community of Jesus on Cape Code, in Orleans, Massachusetts when one of the founders, Judy Sorensen, was used in the healing of the other, Cay Andersen. Out of their joint association in the the Rock Harbor Fellowship, after both founders had been baptized in the Spirit, became the of Jesus.’ Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois began as a house church at 727 Reba Place in 1957. Then as Dave and Neta Jackson write: “Fifteen years later the Charismatic movement shook Reba Place Fellowship to the core, challenging the members to a new love for Jesus as Lord, to release the gifts of leadership and to lay down their lives in new ways for the broken in mind, body and spirit.”‘ A new way of living was introduced to the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas when its rector, Reverend Graham was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1964.3 By the early households had been established in the parish. The flourished until the middle 1970s when Pulkingham for England. After his departure, poor leadership led to the in 1977.4 Within the Catholic church, the typical “seed-bed” of Charismatic was the gathering together of those baptized in the Spirit for prayer meetings. One prevalent characteristic of these meetings is still the feeling of community, and very often communities were Pulkingham 1970s, community community departed disbanding of community living communities ‘ On the Community of Jesus, see the 24-page booklet, Our Life Together: The Community of Jesus (Orleans, MA: The Community of Jesus, Inc., 2Dave and Neta 1990). Jackson, Glimpses of Glory, Thirty Years IL: Brethren of Community (Elgin, Press, 1987), 16. ‘ Michael Harper, A New Way of Living (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1973). 4 . Julia Duin, “Where Have all the Christian Communities Gone?,” Today, 14 September 1992, 24-25. Christianity 1 234 founded by those participants who desired a deeper and more permanent community lifestyle. Such was the case, for example, with the first of the major Charismatic communities, the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, founded in 1967 by Ralph Martin, Stephen Clark, and others soon after their baptism in the Spirit. 5 This development, while embodying new elements, was not something utterly new. In Catholic parishes, sodalities of various kinds (e.g., the Holy Name society, Pioneer Total Abstinence Association) and movements of the lay apostolate (e.g., Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Legion of Mary), apart from religious life, had been present and flourished. On the other hand, renewal of parish life has two built-in difficulties. The first is that there is a natural inertia present, since all baptized Catholics belong to the parish whether they are alive in their faith or not; and, secondly, the policy of frequent changes of pastors does not support a continuity of renewal. Hence movements of renewal are rarely simply identified with the parishes, and either occur outside parish structures or as one element with them. The term “Charismatic communities” is here used to refer to intentional communities with explicit forms of commitment over and above regular patterns of church initiation.6 Many are better known as “covenant communities,” being constituted by a form of covenant agreement made corporately by committed members.’ 7 A detailed account of the rise of covenant communities may be found in the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, in an article entitled “Charismatic Communities. ,,8 In general, communities evolving from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal fall into two categories-those that are oriented towards a single brotherhood or sisterhood; and others that include members from every state of life (married couples with their children, single people, religious laypersons and priests or ministers). In the second category are found the Catholic and ecumenical Charismatic communities which, as noted above, are known here in the United States as covenant communities. There are only a few examples of Protestant Charismatic communities (Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois, and the Community of Jesus at Cape Cod, Maine, among them); most other Charismatic Protestant groupings take the form of Charismatic 5 Mary Ann Jahr, “An Ecumenical Christian Community: The Word of God, Ann Arbor, Michigan,” New Covenant 4 (February 1975): 4-8. See also, Charles H. Green and Kevin F. Perotta, “A Pioneering Community,” Pastoral Renewal 11 1 (July/August 1986): 1, 14-20. “Peter Hocken, “Charismatic Communities,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, eds. M. B. McGee Rapids, MI: Zondervan Stanley Burgess and Gary (Grand Publishing House, 1988), 128. ‘ A “covenant” is the expression of the vision of a community and its lifestyle, including the of its members. A condition of of this responsibilities membership is the acceptance covenant. It is normally renewed corporately each year. allocken, “Charismatic Communities,” 130-146. 2 235 congregations or churches, whether or not they are part of a denomination. Within the Catholic church, the Decree on the Laity (November, 1965) of Vatican II had recognized the right of the laity to found and run associations in the church. The revised code of canon law promulgated in January of 1983 supported the growing phenomenon of the formation of covenant communities which had begun in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Canon 215 of the new Code of Canon Law gave legal form to the decree on Vatican II: “Christ’s faithful may freely establish and direct associations which serve charitable or pious purposes or which foster the Christian vocation in the world, and they may hold meetings to pursue these purposes by common effort.”9 What was new in this law was the clear recognition of a right of association and the opening up of a new broad category called associations of the faithful. Covenant communities found a ready-made home under this umbrella. . The Situation Today In November 1993, I began a survey of communities with the use of a mailing list that was available. However, it was soon found to be far from complete and in some cases out of date and inaccurate. From forty communities surveyed, replies were received from twenty-three. Hence while an overall picture is not possible, I believe that even with the limited amount of information available, much can be learned about the present state of covenant communities. At the same time, the total picture must await the day when more information is available. It is interesting to note that the official approval of the Catholic Fraternity in 1990, of which more will be said later, sparked many inquiries seeking guidance and support through the association. 10 The very names chosen by covenant communities reveal in themselves the inspiration of the Spirit. There are those communities ” that center on being chosen as God’s People; on Jesus Christ, the Son of God ; on the Spirit of God ; ‘3 on Mary in her role of 9 Canon 215, in The Code of Canon Law: An English Translation (London: Collins Liturgical Publications, 1983), 35-36. “Bobby Cavnar, Vice-President of the Fraternity, told the writer that they had received over 300 inquiries of this kind. ” Community of God’s Mercy (Dearborn, MD, Community of God’s Love (Rutherford, NJ), Community of the Lord’s Delight (Oswega, NY), Community of the Lord’s People (Kalamazoo, MI), People of Praise (South Bend, IN), of God (Nanticoke, PA), People of God’s Love People (Columbus, OH, and Providence, RI), People of Hope (Warren, NJ), Work of Christ (Lansing, MI). 12Body of Christ (Minneapolis, MN), Christ the Redeemer (West St. Paul, Emmanuel (Livermore, CA), Incarnate Word (Fairborn, OH), Light of Christ Lamb of God (New Haven, CT), (Baltimore, MD), Shepherd of Bethlehem (Denver, CO), Word ” of Life (Washingtonville, NY), Word of God (Ann Arbor, MI). Sword of the Spirit (Ann Arbor, MI). , 3 236 Theotokos; 14 on discipleship;” on the gift of life in Christ;” on the dwelling of God;” and Alleluia Community of Augusta, Georgia exemplifies a joyful shout to the Lord. The majority of the communities in the survey, thirteen in number, were founded between 1970-1979. Only four were established in the late 1960s and, interestingly enough, while six were begun in the 1980s, there was no example of a new one beginning after 1984. While one reply noted that the spark for community life was lit by a retreat given to the founding group, almost all saw their beginnings from prayer meetings. However, in the case of the Mother of God Community (Gaithersburg, Maryland), both foundresses were baptized in the Holy Spirit separately at least two years before the first prayer meeting which occurred in 1968. Regarding membership, while People of Praise in Bloomington, Minnesota, have over 1000 members,’8 only four communities in the survey reported numbers over 300.19 Eight number between 100-200,’o while the membership of the remaining communities (as far as one could tell from the survey), ranges around 50-60 members. The Lord’s People in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was the smallest ‘ with nine committed families. 21 Of the twenty-three communities in the survey, eight replied that they were ecumenical, while fifteen stated that they were Catholic “Mother of God Community (Gaithersburg, MD): “The name is a reminder that the Community, like the Word of God, should have an awareness of being called to imitate Mary treasuring Mary’s total obedience to the divine purpose, offering itself as God’s instrument in forming the body of Christ” (Statutes of the Community ‘s of Mother of God). Servants of Christ the King (Steubenville, OH), Servants of the Cross (Topsham, ME). ‘6Living Water (Louisville, KY), New Creation (Virginia Beach, VA), New Christian Life (Bel Air, MD), River of Life (Convent Station, NJ). “Ark of the Covenant (Miami, FL), Mt. Zion (Montrose, MI), House of God’s New Delight (Ardmore, PA), Bethlehem (Huntington, NY), New Jerusalem (Miami, 18 see letter FL). of Dan DeCelles, Board of Governors, People of Praise, South Bend, Indiana to the National Catholic Register, 3 May 1992, 4 concerning the POP branch in Minneapolis founded in 1972. Mr. DeCelles writes: “Furthermore, every year during the period in question the community has experienced steady growth in the number of covenanted ” members, from 320 (May 1983) to 1,267 (May 1991), last available data.” “Alleluia Community (Atlanta, GA), Mother of God of Community (Gaithersburg, MD), People Hope (Warren, NJ), Word of God (Ann Arbor, MI). 20 Christ the Redeemer (West St. Paul, MN), Lamb of God (Baltimore, MD), Mount Zion (Montrose, MI), New Jerusalem (Cincinnati, OH), New Jerusalem (Miami, FL), People of God’s Love (Providence, RI), Servants of Christ the Work of Christ King (Steubenville, OH), 21 (Lansing, Mn. Yet small does not mean insignificant. Paul Bede writes from the Community: “We have seen (the Community) as a great blessing to ourselves, our parishes, our city and diocese. It has been a great school for being trained in faithfulness.” 4 237 states in its statutes: “The communities.22 At least one community the beginning had an ecumenical vision. From. seeks within its life to reflect the Charismatic Renewal. ,,23 Another founding leadership from this background, the Community ecumenical character of the community faithful with an ecumenical mission.”” describes itself as “a private association of the Christian in its Catholic Catholic-ecumenical, largely percentage of members, and 70/80% those communities who One reply to the survey noted that a community may be ecumenical vision and life while another may be Catholic-ecumenical, i.e. in nature, but open to Protestant members. This respondent mentioned that “we find ourselves, after 16 years of being an ecumenical community, moving more towards being due to a failure to grow in the protestant a desire among the Catholics for a more Catholic identity.”” The percentages of Catholics-Protestants showed up as roughly Catholic and 20/30% Protestant. It may also be noted that were ecumenical were generally the larger covenant communities, for instance, Alleluia, Lamb of God, Mother of God, Work of Christ, Word of God. development Arbor traditions Fellowships within etc. 12 years after the beginning of The of Atlanta, Georgia is moving towards Some ecumenical communities have introduced the larger community, for example, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, This organizational first occurred at Word of God in Ann in 1979 where various fellowships belonging to different church were established.26 It should be noted that the Catholic Fellowship was only introduced Word of God Community. Alleluia Community and at present an Episcopalian Fellowship. Other ecumenical in Baltimore and Mother of God in both in Maryland, People of Praise in Minneapolis-St. Paul, among others, have not introduced Fellowships. More reflection on this phenomenon in ecumenical communities. also has a Catholic Fellowship establishing communities, Lamb of God Gaithersburg, is needed 22The survey, being brief, did not inquire about the ecumenical vision of the communities. 2J 24 Statutes of the Mother of God Community, Gaithersburg, MD, 1993. Statutes of the Lamb of God Community, Baltimore, MD, 1993. letter of Bill Durrant, Coordinator of People of God’s Love Community, Columbus, OH. 26 “A fellowship for Catholic members of The Word of God, an ecumenical, lay Christian community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been officially constituted by the Most Rev. Kenneth J. Povish, bishop of the diocese of Lansing, Michigan. The new will provide for its members a full expression of Catholic church life within the context of the larger ecumenical community. Membership in the will be open to all Catholic members of The Word of God” (News 22 January 1979). The News Release also noted that efforts were underway to establish fellowships in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. fellowship fellowship Release, 5 238 In the early life of communities, members were accepted into communities as covenant members after the experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit. While some communities have had a temporary category of “underway” members, the expectation was that full membership would follow at the completion of the requirements for membership. In the light of experience, it was seen that having a single category of membership was not satisfactory, since for a variety of reasons some could not undertake the full commitment required by covenant. Hence now it is common to find differing modes of membership, either covenant or committed members, associate members, friends or honorary members. Networks of Communities Not surprisingly, the sudden rise of covenant communities, especially in the United States, led smaller and less confident groups to look toward the larger and more established communities for support and teaching. At the same time, the large communities felt called to take responsibility for the wider renewal, and especially for groups sensing a call to community life. In 1975, “an association of communities” was formed by Word of God and People of Praise communities.” This association ended after six years, since the emphases and visions of the founding communities were too disparate. Word of God then formed a new network, the Sword of the Spirit, to embody its ecumenical and prophetic convictions. Sword of the Spirit was established as one international community with member communities becoming branches of Sword of the Spirit.z8 People of Praise community, after the 1981 breakup of the association of communities, integrated as branch communities, the communities that were relating to them and organized the Fellowship of Communities, a loose coalition of kindred bodies. As of early 1987, People of Praise consisted of some 3,000 people, including children, living in eighteen locations. Another grouping of covenant communities came about when the City of the Lord Community was formed in 1981 from the merging of two communities, the People of Joy in Phoenix, Arizona and the City of the Angels in Los Angeles, both covenant communities. Since the merger, the City of the Lord has expanded to include groups-referred to as “colonies”-in San Diego and Watsonville, Monterey Bay in California.29 2’ They were assisted by four other large Charismatic Communities (Servants of the Light, Minneapolis, MN; the Work of Christ, East Lansing, MI; the Lamb of God, Baltimore, MD; and, Emmanuel, Brisbane, Australia). 28In 1989, according to the Sword of the Spirit Newsletter 10 24 affiliated (May 1989), there were branch communities (6 outside the US), groups (15 outside the US), and 13 associated communities (3 of which were outside the US). ‘The community publishes the City Life Newsletter. 6 239 Besides the above networks, other communities also network with branch communities. Alleluia community, for example, networks with their two branches in Houma, Louisiana and Atlanta, Georgia; while the Mother of God Community does the same with branches in England. There is also the phenomenon of independent communities relating to another community which because of its size, maturity or resources is able to provide support to smaller communities. There are many examples of such an arrangement among communities in the United States and elsewhere. In 1983, Emmanuel Community (Brisbane, Australia) and the Community of God’s Delight (Dallas, Texas) launched a new association of communities known as the International Brotherhood of Communities (IBOC). This body of communities joined together with the aim of forming fraternal relationships in order to consolidate the work of God within them, to encourage and support one another, and to seek ways of promoting evangelism. From this body was formed in 1990 the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and FellowshipS31 which has since been recognized by Rome as an international private association of the faithful.3’ There were thirteen foundation member communities in the Fraternity, of which only three or four were from the United States. Significant Features of Covenant Communities A distinctive form of commitment came first from Word of God at Ann Arbor which, because of a prophecy received in 1969, adopted a covenant which expressed a communal response as one people of God. During the summer of 1969, the Lord began calling the group, through prophecy, to form a “people of God” in the city of Ann Arbor. I brought you all here that you may be together and to come to know me and to love me. Yet you cannot know and love me perfectly unless you make yourselves a body. And I call you all together and I am asking you to accept the covenant that I have given unto you. I have said that I will be your God and I am calling you to be my people. ‘o”Covenant Community” is described in the Statutes as those communities whose members are bound together by a covenant., i.e., “a formal commitment to enter into with members of a and to in their and mission” relationship community participate lifestyle (The Statutes of the “Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, ” 1.3). is a term that describes “a constituted group of Catholics who live a covenant community lifestyle and maintain a bond of “Fellowship” with charity, and witness Christians or prayer groups of Christians belonging to other confessions within a broader ecumenical Charismatic Covenant Communities and community” (The Statutes of the “Catholic Fraternity of Fellowships, ” 1.5, footnote In the 8). of the definition of seem light “fellowship,” “covenant communities” would to be understood as those which are predominantly Catholic. “L’Osservatore Romano, (Weekly Edition in English), 7 January 1991. See also, Chip Wilson, “Community: Seeking the Right Path,” National Catholic Register 2 August 1992, 1. 7 240 After the meeting, the regular participants asked one another, “What does a covenant mean?”32 A.fter studying scriptural references to covenant, they began to hear a call to a different vision of the Christian life; they saw themselves as called together as one people. In the fall of 1969, seventy men and women agreed to dedicate themselves to the Lord as a group and began forming a Christian community. Since that time, the covenant, in one form or another/3 has been distinctive of many communities in the United States. Most major Charismatic communities in Europe, which are predominantly Catholic, do not have covenants, but rather model themselves on the commitment pattern from religious life. In the case of a covenant community, there is a strong sense of the Body of Christ and the solidarity in Christ of all members as together they make their common commitment. In the community life of religious practice, an individual makes his/her commitment in the presence of the superior and the community. Among members of Charismatic communities, there is a sense of being called together by the Spirit of God and sharing that grace which is characteristic of the Charismatic Renewal, known as baptism in the Holy Spirit.’ Together they seek to live out an authentic Christian life in the world under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. At the center of the life of these communities is the desire to translate the grace of the baptism into a shared lifestyle. Typically members forming such a faith-filled community would see themselves as a sign to both the church and the world of the truth and power of the gospel. While the usual commitment is for one to three years, most members of Charismatic communities would understand their commitment as expressing an element of permanence. While some communities have begun to hold goods in common, most communities retained private ownership with members tithing in some way to the community. The leadership of covenant communities is lay. In the North American experience, there has not been a questioning of this lay leadership, although its exercise has sometimes come under scrutiny and negative critique. Most communities have adopted the titles of “coordinator” or “elder” to describe their leaders. These titles also state something, in principle, about the role of leaders and their exercise of authority. 33 See articles cited in note 5. .. Although many communities have adopted the covenant form of agreement, the question may be asked whether communities using the term covenant understood the full implications of the prophetic word that was received, or whether they accepted the term as the common form of “This faith-event is a community agreement. living experience of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, giving the Christian an awareness of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit and a knowledge of being a beloved son or daughter of the Father. 8 241 Conclusions Since the communities that were surveyed were either Catholic or have a strong Catholic representation, the following observations necessarily reflect a Catholic perspective. Overall Stability Despite some critical media coverage concerning a few covenant communities, the overall picture gained from the survey of the twenty-three communities is one of stability and fidelity to the grace and call of baptism in the Holy Spirit.35 It must also be remembered that besides the communities responding to the survey, some of the larger networks of communities did not choose to reply, but their presence in the North American Church also speaks to the general continuing stability of covenant communities. When the question of “Why is this so?” is asked, the answer is necessarily complex. However, some factors may be identified. First, the general positive acceptance of the Charismatic Renewal by the Catholic hierarchy and the recognized place accorded to associations of the faithful within the life of the church is an important factor. This stabilizing relationship does not mean that there are no tensions between the new and the old. However, in the midst of any tension, all Catholics must concede that by the law of the Catholic church, covenant communities have a right to exist. Secondly, there are structures within the Catholic church that allow covenant communities to flourish and be recognized in a progressive way as having an acknowledged place within the life of the church. Although they do embody new forms of church life (e.g., lay led communities whose members come from the broad spectrum of general church membership: married couples, single people, those who are dedicated in a special way to God and ordained ministers), they are clearly seen as belonging to the mainstream of life within the church in the line of the long history of religious orders which have a respected place as gifts of the Spirit to the church. At the basis of this acceptance is the concept of communio which expresses the reality of faith-union under Christ, a proper recognition of rights and responsibilities, a fellowship of trust and respect for authority. In the normal course of events, each community has statutes 3.5 Around the time of the 25th anniversary of the Duquesne weekend, several magazines (The Catholic World Report, Christianity Today, National Catholic Register, etc.) ran articles concerning the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and covenant communities. For instance, The National Catholic articles Register published (pro and con) on covenant communities which, in turn, led to a in its continuing correspondence pages (again pro and con) from May through September 1992. Overall, the discussion centered only on a few covenant communities, and then focused mostly on the exercise of authority and the role of women in the communities. 9 242 which both regulate the inner life of the community and its relationship with church authority. In the case of ecumenical communities, the situation is less clear . since the faith-unity among Christians of different churches who make up such communities is at a deeper level than most other forms of inter-Church sharing of life and witness. While respecting church order, these communities try to live out Christ’s prayer of John 17:21. In a significant way, they are harbingers of a unity that is already established in Christ but not yet realized in his body on earth. For this reason, ecumenical communities are a significant sign of the Spirit’s message to the churches today. . The Effect of Splits Between Communities When the Association of Communities, formed by the Word of God and the People of Praise in 1975, ended after six years because of the differing visions of the founding communities, the split did not have much fallout among covenant communities, although it did affect the wider Catholic Charismatic movement. However, it was a different story with the separation of The Word of God community from the government of The Sword of the Splrlt.36 This step was taken by The Word of God Community in September 1990. In the following twelve months, some fifteen other groups and communities around the world drew back from their involvement in The Sword of the Spirit.” Of the twenty-three communities surveyed, two communities who had been part of The Sword of the Spirit reported that they had experienced major loss in membership as a result of the turmoil concerned with the split. In the Word of God Community itself, 220 members removed themselves and chose to continue in a Sword of the Spirit branch called the Washtenaw Covenant Community, named for Ann Arbor’s surrounding county.38 On the other hand, other communities not connected with Sword of the Spirit experienced few or no repercussions from the split. The split has certainly effected the financial basis of The Sword of the Spirit communities. The assets of both communities were divided “The differing opinions concerning the split are in expressed “A Work firstly by Ralph Martin in Progress,” Faith dc Renewal (formerly Pastoral Renewal) 17 1993): 3-8 and Steve Clark in a booklet entitled, Where has the (January/February Prophetic Movement Gone?, The by Christian Concern Series (Dexter, MI: Tabor Publications, See also: Robert J. Hutchinson, “A Place in Church The Catholic World 1993). History,” Report 3 (August/September 1993): 42-44. this characterization of the article’s content was the title, “Two Veteran leaders Following of American Charismatic communities face highlighted: the questions that define the renewal-and the questions that drove them apart.” “John Blattner, in Sword of the Word of God Communities Faith “Changes Renewal,” Faith & Renewal Spirit, Impact & (formerly Pastoral Renewal) 16 (September/October 1991): 27-28. 38Chip Wilson, “`Word of God’ Seeks a New, Better Balance,” National Catholic Register, 31 May 1990, 1, 10. 10 243 up. The magazine, New Covenant, passed to the control of The Sword of the Spirit and was subsequently sold to Our Sunday Visitor of Huntington, Indiana. On the other hand, Faith & Renewal (formerly Pastoral Renewal) technically remains under the umbrella of Servant Ministries, the nonprofit corporation jointly governed by The Sword of the Spirit and The Word of God. However, within Servant Ministries, it is located in a division called Renewal Ministries, which embraces all the ministries led by Ralph Martin, including his television ministry.39 Servant Publications is now run by an independent board made up of members from both communities. One side effect of the debate within the Word of God Community concerning authority and freedom has been the questioning of the word covenant and with it the original vision connecttd with the name. Most communities still retain the title “covenant community.” However, since 1991, some communities have dropped this title. Some know themselves as a “Renewal Community,” others as a “Christian Community” or simply as “committed Charismatics.” The covenant has been replaced with a membership commitment. The uncertainty about the word “covenant” seems to stem from the rethinking of the concept of community which took place in the Word of God Community in 1990 and also from the criticism of abuses of authority as experienced in some covenant communities Relationships Between Communities While there are four major networks among covenant communities in North America and many smaller and informal ways of relating among other communities, it is surprising that at present there is no overall way in which covenant communities at large relate to each other or share their particular visions. For instance, there is no general list of communities available, nor is there a publication or newsletter which embraces all the communities. In other words, there is no vehicle through which fraternal support and encouragement can be shared. Herein lies a strength and a weakness of covenant communities. In as much as there is no overriding organization that could inhibit the work of the Spirit in particular communities, independence can be a strength; on the other hand, there is the danger of small communities struggling on without much encouragement from those who have experienced the same grace and mercy through the Holy Spirit. While the strength of so ‘9 Blattner, “Changes in Sword of the Spirit, Word of God Communities,” 27. “In an interview with The Catholic World Report, Ralph Martin stated: “We placed too much level solemnity on the covenant, so people felt that it was almost on the same as baptism or marriage. They felt a lot of pressure about whether or not they were free to leave” (Hutchinson, “A Place in Church History,” 43). From the of twenty-three communities, the following communities indicated that no survey they longer described themselves as covenant communities: People of God’s Love (Providence, RI), Lamb of God (Baltimore, MD), Word of Life The (Washington, NY). matter is under review in the Word of God Community (Ann Arbor, MI). 11 244 many covenant communities lies in the fact that they are little local bodies raised up by the Spirit and faithful to the call, the weakness is that there is no evident way in which covenant communities as a whole are giving a common witness. While some smaller communities receive support from neighboring communities, there does not exist a way in which they can share in the strengths and vision of other larger and more established communities. A Work of the Spirit The work of the Spirit is not found principally in organization, or numbers, or categories, but in the life of the communities. A covenant community means a sharing of life and a commitment to support each other. The stability and resilience of covenant communities has provided schools for Christian formation spread throughout the country. For the last twenty-five years, in a society that is short on discipline and order, thousands of committed Christians have experienced by the power of the Spirit dramatic changes in their priorities of life enabling them to commit themselves both to the worship of God through weekly prayer meetings and to serving others. Often small groups within communities will gather for morning prayer before the life of the family or business hours begin. The survey of twenty-three communities gives ample witness to their vitality of life: programs of marriage preparation, and ongoing care for families within the communities and beyond them are a normal part of community life; other activities include youth outreach and summer vacation Bible School programs, support for local Catholic parishes or local churches, evangelistic outreach, grass roots ecumenical endeavors, retreat houses and houses of prayer. From one community, a Scripture-based magazine reaches over 250,000 readers in six different languages.4’ A special feature of the magazine is found in the fact that none of the articles or meditations are signed by individual writers in order to emphasize the fact that the magazine comes from the inner life of the whole Community and not just from individual authors. Many communities have begun their own schools where the children of the community families may receive a true Christian education. At least two communities in the survey noted the fact that the incidence of divorce was minimal compared to the national average. There seem to have been less scandals among covenant communities than in other church bodies. The outreach of communities to the poor, the elderly, and the sick deserves a special survey. ” In November 1981, the first issue of The Word Among Us was published by the Mother of God Community in Gaithersburg, MD. It now has six editions (English, Polish and Dutch) and is language printed and distributed Spanish, in Japanese, Portuguese, Asia, Australia. Central and South America, Europe as well as throughout the North American Continent. 12 245 Though the statistics are incomplete, we glimpse something of the rich profusion and diversity of the outpouring of the Spirit among the people of God, a treasure that is difficult to summarize. Yet the abundance of new life in covenant communities provides a sign of hope today in the body of Christ. 13

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