The Gift of Each Other — Koinonia

by | Dec 22, 2023 | Christine Hall's Blog, WotS Latest Offerings

WE NEED NOT BE SOLITARY TREES IN A WINTER STORM stripped bare and bent to the ground by the violent winds of our times. We need not be Lone Rangers galloping toward the chaos to right all wrongs. We need not be like the little red hen from the old folktale, determined to “do it herself” by baking bread without help.

Our hyperactive, competitive culture is built on images of tough, competent, self-sufficiency. But the culture of the Holy is so gloriously different! Today, I’m remembering the gifts of relationships that nurture our spirits and fullness of life.

On retreat, I introduce a small group spiritual practice we call “koinonia”. Most participants say koinonia groups have been essential to their breakthroughs and real transformations. It’s a rare and precious thing to be heard, to be known, and to hear and know others in the Spirit. In offering and receiving prayerful presence for each other, we become grounded, we gain courage, and we learn resilience. The group becomes more than the sum of individual strengths and wisdom. The Holy weaves between us with a sweetness that sustains.

In these days of high anxiety, wars, cultural and political turmoil, need is growing for koinonia— small circles of committed, faithful people that can share deeply, listen with compassion, and reflect with spiritual discernment.

If you already experience something like that, I give thanks! If you long for such a circle, I pray you’ll read on and join or create one. We need the gift of each other for whatever lies ahead.


What is Koinonia?

Early followers of Jesus’ Way used the Greek word koinonia to describe groups gathered in the Spirit [John 6:48-69, Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:24]. It’s usually translated in English as “fellowship,” but it can mean much more.

Koinonia describes an interactive relationship between God and people sharing new life through the Holy. It embraces concepts conveyed in English terms like community, communion, joint participation, and even intimacy. Phrases like Blessed or Beloved Community begin to capture the lived sense of it.


My Story with Koinonia

I had to grow into koinonia. In my thirties, a steady drive to get things done on my own inspired a boss to give me a little carved wooden hen, right out of the old folktale. In my forties, a Quaker friend suggested I could use a circle of support for my studies in theology and ministry. I didn’t see the point, but agreed because I trusted my friend. What I’m saying is that I’ve had to learn how to lean into this kind of openness with others, into supportive relationships, mutual care and collaboration in discernment. I’m fairly self-protective. It’s not in my nature to talk about what’s important to me.

But openness and searching reflection in small groups has remade my life in dozens of good ways. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m feeling until I begin talking. Sometimes a seemingly random question from the circle will redirect my course for Good when I couldn’t envision another path. Sometimes another person’s stories will shine unexpected light on my own, even when they are very different from mine. Sometimes a friend’s prayer will heal the wounds I thought I had to endure alone. There’s nothing like good koinonia.


How Do Koinonia Groups Work?

“It’s not natural!” a retreat participant moaned after a first koinonia group meeting (For drama, he added a thick Scottish brogue and an fake expletive). Nope, koinonia does not sound like the kind of conversations we’ve known in grocery stores, at a dinner parties, or maybe ever before! Koinonia groups are unusual in their focus and intention. In the process I’ve taught, careful guidelines create a container, a sturdy time apart for listening and nurturing the Spirit within each group member. Most participants find it challenging at first, and I encourage them to keep at it. The gifts are worth the odd “unnaturalness” of the process.

In this experience of koinonia, we can drop social roles and show up as authentic human beings seeking way forward in lived faith. As we share, we’re aiming for self-searching honesty. Vulnerability is welcome; laughter and tears are all okay. There’s nothing to prove—our wisdom, political correctness, or what a good/together/mature person we are. There are no right answers to the open ended queries that rise. We don’t need to correct each other, solve our problems or anyone else’s.

As we listen to others, we cultivate a compassionate heart, accepting the gift of a speaker’s insights and struggles. Most of us have to unlearn some conventional communication patterns to make room for the kind of listening we do in koinonia groups. For example during each person’s “turn” as speaker, other participants are asked to listen without interruption for six to ten minutes. That’s because, consciously or unconsciously, a listener’s verbal and non-verbal reactions can greatly influence a speaker. By dampening outer feedback, listeners encourage the speaker’s freedom to turn inward and tend subtle sensibilities that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Further gifts of the koinonia process are the open and honest questions participants ask each other. It can be another learning curve to find the kind of questions that get beyond simple curiosity about facts or intellectual analysis, the kind of questions that foster meaningful spiritual discernment. Our questions aim to evoke greater self-understanding and trust in the Spirit’s influences within us. We gently encourage each other to explore tender spots, or an emerging awareness that may guide next steps. But no one is required to answer, either. Questions may work on us for weeks or months, or we can allow them slide away as needed.


An Invitation

If you’d like to know more about where this koinonia practice comes from, read a collection of quotations from Quaker and Christian sources. My primary influences are Circles of Trust described in Parker Palmer’s book, Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (2004), and the Shalem Institute’s Spiritual Formation Groups.

If you’d like to join an online koinonia group in 2024 through Way of the Spirit , click to apply online.

  • There’ll be four or five people per group.
  • Participants will commit to six months with option to continue.
  • Possible monthly meeting times depending on group members’ availability. All times for US Pacific Time Zone:
    • 2nd Tuesdays 9:30-11:30am 
    • 2nd Saturdays 9:30-11:30am
    • 3rd Wednesdays 1:30-3:30pm 
    • Or 4th Tuesdays 6:30-8:30pm
  • Fees — $50/month payable through Good News Associates.

I’ll introduce and facilitate the group process. For each meeting, I’ll offer queries about participants’ ordinary lives, experiences, prayer and spiritual practice, or hopes and struggles. Depending on the group’s wishes, Enneagram wisdom can offer a helpful framework for exploration.


Preventing Election Violence in 2024

Here’s another way we can be gifts for each other and build peaceable koinonia in our wider world. It’s becoming more likely that the upcoming election cycle in the U.S. could cause real turmoil close to home for many of us. If you share this concern and decline to be hopeless about preventing election violence as a specific, concrete goal, please check out the work of Emily Provance, a fellow Good News Associate.

Emily is hosting a series of four online conversations in winter 2024 with an abundance of well-researched background and practical strategies. 

  • Sign up for Emily’s updates and to receive Zoom links to join the series at the bottom of this page.