A few years ago, I read The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. Imagine my surprise when I got to the part where Dreher interviewed a friend of mine about the Alleluia Community, where I've lived for more than a decade.
I not going to discuss the book much, because I remember it only vaguely. One thing stands out in my memory, however. Dreher seemed to focus on Christian community as a way to escape the corruption of the world. A running away from something evil rather than a running toward something good. I remember thinking that he missed something very important. Maybe he missed the whole point.
Christian Community is a good thing that is worth pursuing. Human beings are built for it. The Most Holy Trinity is a community of Three Divine Persons. It follows that human beings made in the image and likeness of God would have a desire for community. Before the fall, the only "not good thing" was Adam's isolation.
The Alleluia Option.
After my conversion, (read about it in Demoniac, now on Amazon), I had a strong desire to be with people who didn't think I was crazy. One of my coworkers heard my testimony and said, "You should check out Alleluia. They'll understand you." She introduced me to the community through a classmate who grew up there.
Alleluia started nearly 50 years ago, long before The Benedict Option twinkled in Dreher's mind. A dozen Catholics had experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. As a result of this shared experience, the founders felt a strong desire to experience Christian Community the way they saw it described in the Book of Acts.
In the early years, they tried to share everything in common, just like that first Acts community. The founders pooled their resources and purchased a tract of duplexes in a depressed part of town, which they named Faith Village. Families sold their homes and moved to this neighborhood largely populated by drug dealers and prostitutes. They called this time "total sharing". Families would put their entire paychecks into the common fund and get a stipend that would cover their bills and their living expenses.
The homes they purchased were literally falling apart, so every weekend the men came together for "work parties". They gutted the houses, replacing plumbing, windows, walls, floors, roofs, etc. as resources became available. Working together helped knit the new community together. It's common to hear the members who lived during this time say that they didn't build Faith Village... Faith Village built them.
After 7 or 8 years, the time of total sharing came to an end. The leaders of the community realized that ownership is actually a good thing. When nobody owns anything, nobody takes responsibility for maintenance and upkeep.
The call to personal holiness.
Since the beginning, members have come together for a weekly prayer meeting. It is not a church service. Early on. the founders heard the Lord saying that He wanted the community to be ecumenical. So, it isn't a church in itself. Members commit to being faithful members of their own churches. Many are Catholic, but we currently have members who are members of Lutheran, Pentecostal, Methodist, Vineyard, and other New Charismatic churches.
Many people looking in from the outside are confused on this point. How can the members be united if they aren't all a part of the same church? All share a belief in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Members agree not to allow differences in the finer points of theology destroy the love that God has given us for each other.
The call to personal holiness really binds us together. I mentioned earlier that people were created by God to live in community. I neglected to mention that the fall made community according to God's plan impossible. The effects of sin make it difficult to sustain relationships in the long term. Communities fracture due to broken relationships. Or they take on some kind of disordered form that suppresses individual freedom and flourishing like a dystopian novel.
The antidote to this human brokenness is holiness. God gives us the grace to forgive one another and bear with one another when sin damages relationships. It is not human love that does this. It is the love of God that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Building to last.
Currently, the community has about 200 families made up of 400 adults and 300 children. When it started, people came from all over to Augusta to help build this particular Benedict Option. Some of the original members are still with us, and some of the children of members also join. A steady flow of new members also hears the call to community and comes from all over just like the first members.
The community lives in two primary geographic clusters. One is called Faith Village in Augusta, GA, and the other is called The Farm out in Dearing, GA. I live at the Farm. One of the principles that unites us is an agreement to try to live within "a cup of sugar distance" of other community members. It's just easier to build community when the other community members live next door. Quality time is good and important, but you also need quantity time. Never underestimate the importance of wasting time together.
The community also operates an accredited k-12 school for the members' children. It's basically a small, private Christian school, but the entire staff are members of the Alleluia. The students can choose between basketball, volleyball, and soccer. And chess team. And robotics. Students from the school have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, physical therapists, engineers, electricians, beauticians, welders, etc. Pretty much the whole spectrum. It's a good school that's punching above its weight.
The school also produces a large number of priestly and religious vocations, especially considering our size. I know that I said that we are ecumenical, but that hasn't hindered vocations in the slightest. Families that live their faith in a lively way have children who are open to God's call on their lives.
Be a people.
While at an Encounter Conference, I heard a talk by Fr. Mike Schmitz. He said that if your life focuses on your mission, you're going to run into serious problems. You're going to fail in your mission sometimes. You're going to sin, make mistakes, and miss opportunities. If you find your value in what you do, you will end up disappointing yourself.
Instead, you have to ground yourself in who you are, in your identity. If you focus on being a child of God, on something that doesn't change with times and circumstances, it will give you a firm foundation.
This concept applies to community life. Alleluia doesn't have a specific ministry that gives it purpose. It's not a missionary group, although some members are missionaries. No single activity defines community life, although it spawns lots of activities.
Throughout its history, God has repeatedly told Alleluia that we are called to be a people. It's in the opening paragraph of our covenant (a discussion for another day). I consider Alleluia my tribe. A Benedict Option tribe. A family of families building intentional Christian community. For the glory of God.