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By Tamera Schreur

I’m quite impressed with young Karthik Nemmani. Well, the whole nation is! Fourteen-year-old Karthik from Texas was all over the news a few weeks back when he became the Scripps National Selling Bee champion of 2018.

The final word was koinonia. If you are part of a church, you probably have heard of the word. Maybe one of your church small groups is even called “Koinonia Time” or “K-time” or the like. Even if you don’t know the word, you are likely experiencing it. My church sure was overflowing with koinonia last Sunday as we celebrated Children’s Day.

Simply put, koinonia means fellowship, connecting deeply as Christians, having spiritually-based community with others. You can find the definition on the internet easily enough, but the experience of koinonia is another thing altogether. No app available for that.

I remember feeling koinonia around a campfire in junior high during church camp at Lake Geneva—singing “It Only Takes a Spark” together with kids I’d just met, but got connected to fast, real fast. The cute boy who sat next to me probably helped, but even as a kid, I got it—this fellowship stuff with other Christians is something unique. It drew me in big time.

Keeping koinonia is not always so simple though. When a distinguished church elder admitted he was a secret alcoholic and then asked for support and prayer, not everyone came around right away. There were lots of feelings and questions and even some outrage.

But, koinonia can grow back, and sometimes is even more intense and deep when we admit we are all, well, human, problems and all.

How about you? I invite you to think of your experiences with koinonia –when you were younger, and also a recent time. If you are a pastor, you might think especially of when koinonia showed up in a very personal way, apart from the ways it shows up in your professional role.

Koinonia isn’t like a quilting circle or soccer team you join because of common interests.

Koinonia’s charm is different because the spiritual fellowship, the care and connection, really happen as a gift from God, even when we DON’T share many interests. Even when we are vastly different. Even when we don’t much like each other. Koinonia can still be there.

Oh, it can be a messy challenge for us. The worst parts of us can interfere with letting it grow. It doesn’t always go well. But, (here’s the good news!) God’s love is so excessive and persistent, it encourages koinonia, even where it would more likely be absent, wither, or turn into hate. To me, all of that makes koinonia sparkle like the jewel it is. That sparkle is precious, especially in today’s era of exacerbating differences into divisions.

Koinonia unites our heads, our hearts, and our hands in deliberate and profound ways. It gets us (somehow) to become “knit together in love.”

I think it’s pretty great that a church-y word got to be the Scripps National Spelling Bee final word.

Last Sunday at my church, the kids composed the opening litany. It was all about koinonia. Here it is!

Today we celebrate each one of us, young and older.
We are a wonderful mix as we come together for worship and koinonia.
There’s always a welcome here.
Thank you, God, for our Church Family.

We celebrate how we are alike and honor our differences.
We don’t all see eye to eye on things, but we can still get along.
Some of us are quiet, others are bonkers energetic.
Thank you, God, for the love we share.

Some of us like sports, others like art, music, or math.
Some of us are smart academically, others excel in emotional IQ.
We are tall, short, and in-between and beautiful in color as a rainbow.
Thank you, God, for the love we share.

We have different styles of families and houses and we can speak a lot of languages.
Mandarin, French, Korean, Swahili, Cantonese, Spanish, and Japanese to name a few.
We like it! It makes our Church extra special!
Thank you, God, for the love we share.

Great God of all
It works out good when we focus
On love and grace
Rather than let differences divide.
You are the Giver of love and grace.

Forgive us when we are stingy with love.
When we limit our grace.
And forget that you give us plenty
To go around and share.
Thank you, God, for your love, grace and forgiveness. Amen

I think, young as they are, they get this koinonia thing.
And, after Karthik’s win, I think they can spell it too.

Tamera Schreur

Tamera Schreur coordinates all things kid-focused at Greenville Community Church in Scarsdale, New York. She is also in private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist. Tamera celebrates joy, creativity, humor, and beauty as often as possible.

One Comment

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Tamera, for your insights into “koinonia.” Your right that many churches have koinonia fellowship or Bible study groups. It’s that close bond that centers on a Christ centered relationship that binds Christians together in such groups or even in the church. It is like “Christ” is their addiction that draw such people together. Of course, this is especially true of churches that focus on a personal and experiential relationship to Christ.

    But such koinonia is not unique to Christianity or the Christian church. AA groups to sports groups to knitting groups can experience a very similar or same experience of bonded close fellowship. It’s just that different groups have different addictions and is a matter of how great your particular and common addiction (with others) is or if it is even an “in word only addiction.” Thanks Tamera for the food for thought. Oh ya, there’s another addiction, food and food clubs.

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