July 2007 - Vol. 10

community anniversary celebration dinner

Word of Life

a community of disciples on mission  

by Jon Wilson

To give the reader some historical background: Word of Life, an ecumenical Christian Community, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, takes its roots in the charismatic renewal which began in the late 1960s. In the fall of 1967 Steve Clark, Ralph Martin, Gerry Rauch, and Jim Cavnar, all Notre Dame University graduates, came to Ann Arbor to establish a student evangelistic outreach at the University of Michigan. Their work led to the founding of The Word of God, one of the first covenant communities, which formally began in 1970. In 1982 The Word of God helped to establish an international community of communities, called The Sword of the Spirit. When a leadership crisis ensued in The Word of God and The Sword of the Spirit in 1991, Word of Life was established with a number of families, single people, and The Servants of the Word, along with support from Steve Clark and other leaders in The Sword of the Spirit. 
Ann Arbor is a booming town of over 100,000 inhabitants, including 40,000 graduate and undergraduate students. It’s a pleasant place to live, but most students move on to jobs, careers, and families elsewhere around the country and the world. So why have a few hundred people, many originally intending to just pass through like the rest of their acquaintances, decided to make Ann Arbor their long-term home? In a city of casual friendships and transient relationships, what holds together a group including university graduates, married couples, children, singles, professionals and laborers, Catholics and Protestants, and a few internationals from India, the Philippines, Germany, and Costa Rica, to name a few? The answer is covenant community.

Word of Life began in 1991 as a result of some leadership difficulties in the Word of God. A number of its members were involved in the founding of the Word of God back in the 1970s and ‘80s. That is why the community keeps count of its anniversary dating back to 1971 when the first public commitments in the Word of God took place. [See article on the beginnings in the early 1970s of Christian Covenant Community.] For many years, Word of Life did not have a permanent name. When filing the incorporation documents in 1991, the temporary name used was Washtenaw Covenant Community, employing the geographical name of our county. No one realized we would retain that name for 13 years before deciding on our permanent name, Word of Life.

Currently the community numbers over 400 men, women and children—roughly 75 families, 180 children, and some 90 single brothers and sisters.  We are truly a trans-generational community:  one of our families has four generations who are members of Word of Life, and over 30 adult members are the sons and daughters of parents also in community. This continuity enriches our lives and gives us great joy and hope for the future.

community members meet on Sunday afternoons for prayer, teaching, and sharing

Mission and outreach
Our initial and longest standing community outreach is the University Christian Outreach (UCO) chapter at the University of Michigan. The Lord has blessed our hard work in this very secular environment; during the last few years in particular there has been remarkable growth in UCO.  As the years go by and our own children grow up, many of these “community kids” are becoming active members in UCO here or in other communities.

Our second outreach is Detroit Community Outreach, which runs an outreach to inner-city youth called YouthWorks-Detroit.  About a dozen members of Word of Life live in the inner city and serve in the outreach. Their number more than doubles each summer as many youth in the Sword of the Spirit spend a “summer in the city,” serving as a generous presence there, especially with the kids.

children enjoy a hay ride at the annual community fall festival

As with most other communities in the Sword of the Spirit, we are heavily invested in the youth of the community. We have a team of married couples and young single people who oversee a very active high school program, while several other couples work with the younger aged children. Our youth are further blessed by their participation in Kairos, the North American regional youth program of The Sword of the Spirit.

In an effort to spend more time together, we have divided up our members into “communal Lord’s Day Celebration groupings” which come together three to four times each year to celebrate the beginning of the Lord’s Day on Saturday evening with a communal meal. We are often packed in like sardines, but both adults and kids have a great time together! We continue to believe strongly that this rich time of celebration is an essential building block for accomplishing our goal of building a Christian culture.

We have heard frequent words from the Lord regarding our name, Word of Life. As we reflect on the Lord’s intention in giving us this name, it is our earnest prayer that we both hold onto and hold out to others the Word of Life as we live out our daily lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.

[Jon Wilson is a coordinator of Word of Life. He and his wife, Melody and their three children live in Ypsilanti, Michigan.]

(c) copyright 2007  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
email: editor@swordofthespirit.net