Outside the community dining hall at Koinonia Farm near Americus, Georgia, a bell sits on a rough-hewn post like a hat on a welcoming host. For almost 70 years, visitors have been welcomed there every weekday for a community meal. Today, there's a new vitality at Koinonia; it can be heard in the bell's ring five times a day, as well as in the voices of cattle and sheep, children and construction crews. While deeply rooted in their tradition, Koinonia's members are creating fresh structures in community life -- and they have a new approach to the land based on permaculture, a design system for sustainable habitats.
In 1942, Clarence and Florence Jordan, along with Martin and Mabel England, started the farm as a "demonstration plot for the kingdom of God." Koinonia endured violent hostility for its pacifist stand in the 1940s and for fostering close relationships between African-American and white neighbors in the 1950s and '60s. In the '70s and '80s, members' work led to forming international ministries: Habitat for Humanity, Jubilee Partners, and the Fuller Center for Housing.
But in the wake of a 1993 decision to make structural changes to function more like a typical nonprofit corporation, Koinonia experienced a decade of challenges. The change had sound reasons, including the hope to include more African-American neighbors in long-term employment, but the community struggled for leadership and focus. The core ministries were sustained, but Koinonia lost money and had to sell nearly half of its 1,100 acres.