December 2010 - Vol. 45

Joy of the journey to covenant comminity
by Hannah Gornik

I recently attended a reception with some 200 members of Word of Life community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. We gathered to celebrate our 40th anniversary as a covenant community, to give thanks for what God has done to sustain us, and looking forward to the future as well. Forty years is not that long in the grand scheme of the universe, but it is amazing to look back and see what God has done with two and three generations of people who chose to live a shared life together. As part of the celebration, some of us, myself included, were about to make our public commitments to Word of Life and to the whole international network of communities, the Sword of the Spirit.

During the reception, I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people. I told them that I was looking forward to making my commitment, planting myself here. There were a number of reasons I wanted to make this decision to live my life in this community for the foreseeable future. One person asked what led me to this decision. I said that I had been trying to write out my reasons for weeks, and every time I tried to write down my thoughts, I became overwhelmed by the Lord’s goodness to me. 

My journey leading to the point of commitment has been pretty complicated, despite my young age (28 years old). It includes my wonderful family upbringing; my parents joining community many years ago, exiting community, and then, a few years ago, returning to it; my own decision to follow Christ; my involvement during my college years with the People of Praise, a community in South Bend, Indiana, and my involvement in other community movements. Another key part of the journey was the call I sensed to go serve the Lord for two years in the Antioch Community in London, and in its university outreach, Koinonia; and then my return to Ann Arbor and continued involvement in Word of Life. As I think about each of these phases, literally hundreds of people come to mind, each of whom played a role in shaping me and my faith to where it is now and, I am sure, influencing how it will develop in the years to come. 

That to me is the joy of community – whether in the covenant sense or the broader “cloud of witnesses.” Many people have been there helping me on a daily basis to get to heaven, and that is what I need! This past summer, I was asked by the community leaders if I wanted to consider making a public commitment. I like decisions, but this one I had been shying away from for a while, mostly because the future is quite unclear for me in terms of career, grad school, and marriage. Despite my hesitations, I decided to do the final community course, the one on community covenant, and found that four of my friends, three of them from my university outreach days, were also taking the course. We explored the commitment and way of life we were considering living for the rest of our lives, and I was able to see even more facets of its beauty. But I was not sure that I had heard the call to me personally yet, and I planned to delay my decision. Then, at the end of the summer, on a women’s retreat, I had a very strong experience of God’s abundance in my life. I felt overwhelmed by all that he had given me, and I noticed that my tendency was to accept only a small amount of it. But it was clear that instead God wanted me to plunge in. While on a return visit to London a few weeks later, I went to a prayer service. When a few verses of Psalm 116 were read, I sensed strongly that they were for me:

“How can I repay the LORD
      for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
      and call on the name of the LORD.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
      in the presence of all his people.”
I knew then and there that this was what the Lord wanted – that in response to all he had done for me, I needed to make this "vow to the LORD in the presence of all his people,"  He was inviting me to make a public commitment to the community.

Plunging in to his grace and blessing at this point in my life means making a decision to follow a radical call to community, to join myself with these people into whose midst he has called me. The place for me to love, serve and live is here – to be part of, as our vision states, “a community of disciples on mission.” And to live out this call in an ecumenical, charismatic, covenant community.  I need ecumenism – so many of you are not of the same church tradition as me, and yet you build my faith in amazing ways. I also need the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit alive in my life and inspiring all that I do. It became clear to me that I needed to covenant myself – first and foremost to God, and then to this community - a group of Christians, imperfect like myself but dedicated to the Lord and his work, so that I could receive personal support that would be with me until the end of my earthly life. 

The end of Psalm 116 repeats the same line about fulfilling your vow, in what I consider an image of heaven.  Repeating this vow again before the throne of God and dwelling forever in the presence of the Lord is what I am seeking with all my heart, and my commitment to this real-life, Christian community is another step on that road.  I pray that when I get to that ultimate goal, I will be surrounded by all of you!

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