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Alleluia Community-One Man’s View from the Outside Looking in

Alleluia Community-One Man’s View from the Outside Looking in

Alleluia Community was formed on February 11, 1973, in Augusta, Georgia, during a record-setting snowstorm.

It is impossible with words to give an adequate description of the Alleluia Community—one has to “come and see” it for himself. However, since Alleluia has been so life changing and life shaping for our family and so many hundreds of others, I must try to give you an overview. To be truly thorough would require an entire book. The community is every bit as unique as a fourteen-inch snow in the Deep South!

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My wife Nancy and I made a one-day visit to Alleluia in the spring of 1981, after some members of Alleluia came to our prayer meeting in Marietta and invited us. We got an early reality check as our three-hour drive wound into its final two miles. The condition of the neighborhood and surroundings had suddenly taken on a very depressed look just as Nancy announced from our page of directions, “One more turn and we’re at Faith Village.” I immediately responded, “Oh, no!”

Thirty seconds later we were arriving at the “bell tower” located outside of the house where noon prayers were to momentarily begin. Without introduction, we were soon inside the house among a group of forty people, young mothers and some not so young, with the largest number of small children we had ever seen in one room. The man leading the prayers was addressed as Dale—or as the kids called him, Uncle Dale.

While observing community life on our visit that day, we met twice with Dale, the man who had led noon prayers, who was also a community founder and elder. Dale was different from anyone we had ever been around; he was known to be very spiritually attuned and discerning and to intentionally say very little. He cut to the chase and didn’t really encourage us to come to visit Alleluia again, unless we were “called.”

We tried to quiz Dale about the community mission. What was it? What was their work? He would only reply “To be a people.” The community aspired to get everyone in their care baptized in the Holy Spirit and to work hard at “being a people,” which to them meant living out Christian family together. And yes, they were ecumenical. It was very important to us that any community we considered be ecumenical (multi-denominational), but I didn’t yet understand this “be a people” part. To me, it didn’t appear that the community’s mission and purpose were anything like our own. I was used to spontaneously “going out” in the Spirit and working with strangers.

faith villageNancy, on the other hand, was tracking with Dale, and by the conclusion of our visit she thought she was ready (and I should be) to pack up and move to Augusta and join Alleluia. I just wanted to get back on I-20 to Atlanta—the sooner, the better! Our trip home was long and filled with tension and disagreement. I felt threatened and would have been quite happy to forget all about Alleluia and Augusta!

Nancy had, for a long time, been personally drawn to a Scripture in Acts: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common… They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their numbers. Acts 2:42-44,46-48

Nancy was convinced that Alleluia Community was that Scripture being lived out. I was really immersed in the workings of the Holy Spirit where we were in Marietta and wasn’t looking forward to giving that up. To relocate to a place that didn’t impress me that much, and start over among people I didn’t know, in a town with uncertain business prospects, seemed questionable at best.

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Our one visit in 1981 had been a shock to my system, from a physical and material standpoint. To me, the Alleluia Community was the most austere, bare-essentials place that I had ever spent time in—the extreme opposite of the well-appointed houses I had designed and built in upscale neighborhoods in Atlanta. Most of the community members lived in a partially renovated duplex neighborhood. It had been built in 1951, and by the time the community was founded and members began to move into the first renovated duplexes, the complex had suffered over two decades of abuse and neglect at the hands of renters. It also was located in an active red-light, crime-infested area with pimps and drug dealers cruising the streets. Even in 1981, gunshots were heard in the distance at various times of the day and night. The community’s founders had sold their own nice homes on the west side of town to fund the purchase of this old, declining cluster of houses and had moved “down,” praying against the surrounding evil and for the demons to be put to flight.

It was two years before I could get over the jolt of the first visit and bring myself to make another visit. This time, I began to see past the duplex buildings in need of improvement, the abused property and the rough surroundings, and to try to appreciate the committed people and the working of the Holy Spirit among them. By our second visit, the area and many of its houses had been improved significantly (but not nearly so much as my tolerance and understanding). The Lord had been working on my attitude and my values, and helping me to look beyond material things. It would take every bit of what we had gained from our “going down” experience with Jean’s house (all of which happened after our first visit to Alleluia in 1981) to prepare me to even consider moving to Alleluia. I had spent most of our married life trying to distance us from just this kind of housing and neighborhood.

On that second visit to Alleluia, Nancy and I were joined by Don and Karen, friends from our Marietta prayer group. They had heard the call to community a few years earlier, and were anxious to “come and see.”

During that visit, Don, Karen, Nancy and I agreed to start coming regularly that fall, every other weekend, which we did. We would travel in our two cars, driving together, leaving Marietta on Friday after work and returning home on Sunday around 9 pm. Each visit helped to release us from our attachment to Marietta. Many of our family and friends just couldn’t understand why we would be making these visits, even though the community frequently hosts guests from all over the world.

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Those weekends were chock full for us all. We were placed with different families to stay in their homes and experience community with them. We would be included in whatever they were doing. It was a great opportunity to learn to “fit in.” Many times, Don and Karen’s two adult daughters came with them, and Nancy’s mother, Fran, usually came with us, along with one or more of our three sons. Don and Karen and their daughters would generally be hosted in one home, and Nancy and I and our sons in another, while Fran would usually be placed in a third home.

On several occasions, we had not met our hosts before reaching their home. Sometimes, on our arrival, no one was home, and we would be greeted by a note of instruction on the front door. One such note read, “Welcome! You’ll be staying in the room at the top of the stairs, the one with the sheetrock against the wall.” These people were not out to impress, but were just very real and genuinely hospitable. They believed that the Holy Spirit selected those who visited. We sensed no attitude of exclusivity in any of the members, but rather a down-to-earth honesty and openness. On some of our visits, we would realize the next morning that we had been given the master bedroom, while the hosting couple slept somewhere else in the house, even on the floor. That’s sacrificial giving! We were already witnessing a deeper level of “dying to self” than we had ever seen. We were always treated with great warmth and acceptance. Their kids always called us Aunt Nancy, Uncle Gary, and “Franma.” Their love for Jesus showed in their care for us.

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Alleluia had teachings for the newer people on Saturday mornings, a work party in the afternoon, and a Lord’s Day meal Saturday night. Sundays were full: breakfast, then church services, brunch, and the weekly community gathering on Sunday afternoon. At the end of the meeting, community members “laid hands” on us, prayed us up for the journey home, and told us that they were sorry we couldn’t stay and “live community.”

We followed this schedule faithfully every other week. And came to know more individuals with each visit and appreciate their uniqueness and the ways that they had each been called to community. These people were genuine, they were in pursuit of God’s will and the “more” for their lives, and we felt the call to join them.

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Nancy and I were both tired of being disappointed by believers who would eagerly go part of the way, and then no further. It was obvious from the costly moves that many community members had made to get to Alleluia—leaving homes, families, friendships, jobs, and even careers—that they were not counting the cost. They had found their pearl of great price and answered the call to this new life, not knowing what that entailed. Many of them were former leaders of prayer groups in their churches, but had been willing to forego that for this higher calling, starting over at the ground level in the community, in accordance with God’s plan for their lives. Nancy and I wanted to live among believers with that level of commitment.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Matthew 16:24-27

Gary & Nancy Garner

Gary & Nancy Garner

 

 

Garner, Gary (2012-07-02). Excerpts from Swept Up by the Spirit   Journey of Transformation (Kindle Locations 2296-2392).  Kindle Edition.

 

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