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  • Ekklesia Hattiesburg

Searching for Community by Dow Ford

Community is the glue that holds us together, and we all seek it—whether we recognize it or not. As Americans, we are taught to cherish the independent spirit, the ability to “get it done” by ourselves. We learned to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, dust ourselves off, and get back up on the horse that threw us so we can ride off into the sunset. Unfortunately, all that leads to is a ride in the dark with a sore behind and dirty clothes. We all want more than that. We want community.

Remember the early promises of the Internet? We were told the world would become one giant community where we could communicate with our friends around the world. It sounded like genuine community, but it often turned into roving bands of disgruntled people who liked to pick fights with anyone who looked, thought, voted, or worshiped differently that they did. It wasn’t community, was it?  We want  genuine community.

When Reneé and I started attending Ekklesia in 2016, we didn’t know anyone in the church very well. (I say “attending,” because no one formally “joins” Ekklesia. There are no membership rolls, no specific doctrines to embrace, no applications to complete or membership cards to receive.) It was, and still is, a small, unusual church. Ekklesia doesn’t own a building or a parking lot. And they give away most of the money they bring into local projects in the community. Much of it goes to Hawkins Elementary School, a local underfunded public elementary school. Soon we were finding something magic at Ekklesia. We were finding community, and it was easy to see how it all happened.

Frankly, a lot of that community building involved eating good food together! There are potlucks, picnics, and plenty of coffee and cookies at Ekklesia. There are girls’ nights out and guys' nights out. I don’t know what the women do, but guys' nights usually involve food and firepits, and sometimes poker. Small groups of people from Ekklesia are getting together all the time just for the fun of it.

Community at Ekklesia is built around more than food though. It involves action. The American writer, Margaret Wheatly, said, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” In the very first days of Ekklesia, the members saw a school that was underfunded, understaffed, and nearly invisible to the state, and they made a bold move. They volunteered to help. Since those early days, thousands of man and woman hours have been poured into that school. Ekklesia members regularly clean, paint, decorate, organize, and garden on the property. They volunteer to tutor, fund trips to places students could never afford to go, and nurture the teachers with food, snacks, and classroom staples. The work at Hawkins is never-ending, but Ekklesia is in for the long game. Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate action of its members.”

Our community is the result of food and action, for sure, but there is more—much more. Community is also built by the spirit of our services, the exquisite music of talented musicians who lead us each week, the messages that Mike Dixon brings to carry us through the hard weeks, the prayers that go up for our members and community, the Communion served each week by our members, and the spirit in our weekly services that sustains us.

It's well documented that people will drive many miles and pass dozens of churches to get to the one church where they feel love and community. I know Reneé and I make that drive every week.  We go for the community and love we feel at Ekklesia.

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