Growing Unity Among Charismatic Covenant Communities
by Paul Dinolfo

When the first Christians were baptized in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost they experienced an internal change and a new power for mission. They also experienced an unexpected fruit as they were drawn into a unity expressed in Christian community. In time this unity was extended beyond the Jewish believers. Samaritans and Gentiles gave their lives to Jesus, were  filled with the Holy Spirit and brought into the Christian community.

Our experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit parallels that of the early church. At first the main fruit we recognized was a deeper spiritual life, worship, spiritual gifts, love for Scripture, and power for mission. But, we also experienced an unexpected fruit as we were drawn by the Holy Spirit into unity with Christians from other church traditions: Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. And, like the early Christians we were also drawn into Christian community.

From 1967 to 1975 a number of charismatic, covenant communities were formed. Some were Catholic, but many were ecumenical. In 1976, several covenant communities in the USA gathered together for a “community of communities” conference. It was at this conference that many of us heard the Bulwark prophecy, which called us to come together as communities – to extend our covenant love and commitment beyond our local communities. This resulted in the formation of the Association of Communities.

Over the next several years, leaders of communities that comprised the Association met regularly to work out how we would come together on a practical level. Not surprisingly, there were different views among us. Some wanted a high degree of structural unity, while others wanted a somewhat loose relationship.

This disagreement led to the dissolution of the Association in 1981. Over the next few years the communities that were part of the Association developed into three networks of covenant communities: The Sword of the Spirit, the Catholic Fraternity, and the People of Praise.

Unfortunately, there were some hard feelings among some over the dissolution of the Association. In time there was some reconciliation between the leaders involved in the dissolution, but for the most part the three networks went their separate ways and had little to do with each other. Some individuals and local communities continued to have regular contact, but these interactions were relatively rare.

When we were making plans for the 2012 International Coordinators Meeting in New Jersey, the International Executive Council decided to extend an invitation to communities in the Catholic Fraternity. Alleluia Community (Augusta, Georgia) and City of the Lord (Tempe, Arizona) sent some of their coordinators. Since then leaders of those communities, as well as the Community of God’s Delight (Dallas, Texas), and Mother of God (Gaithersburg, Maryland) have regularly sent leaders to our international and regional leaders conferences.

When Alleluia Community received our invitation to attend the 2012 International Coordinators Meeting, Bob Garrett (their senior coordinator) invited me to attend the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship (CLF) meeting. CLF began in the 1970’s. Its purpose is to bring together leaders within the charismatic movement to build relationships and discuss issues of common concern. The CLF was behind the 1976 Kansas City conference. Sword of the Spirit leaders had at one time been very involved in CLF, but we had not been invited for many years.

I have since attended the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship (CLF) meetings. My wife, Marcia, usually attends with me. Dave Hughes has also attended. One of the main benefits of CLF is that it has provided “neutral ground” for relationship building with Catholic Fraternity and People of Praise leaders. This year the covenant community leaders added an extra day to meet together. Marcia and I attended, along with leaders from three the Catholic Fraternity communities. The People of Praise leaders were unable to attend, but we hope they will attend in the future. We used the time for relationship building and to discuss ways we could support each other as communities.

In 2015, the Catholic Fraternity invited me to attend their North American council meeting. At the meeting, I shared ways we might develop a more active friendship. Since then, St Paul’s Outreach (SPO), Kairos and Sword of the Spirit, and City of the Lord formed an alliance to work together building covenant community among young people in the Tempe, AZ, area. In 2016, the Catholic Fraternity invited Mike Shaughnessy and Dave Hughes to their North American council meeting. Mike shared our vision for working with youth, the community youth bridge, which was very well received.

I am encouraged by the growing friendship between the Sword of the Spirit and the Catholic Fraternity in North America. I believe it has already been beneficial to both the Sword of the Spirit and to the Catholic Fraternity. More importantly, I believe it is an expression of unity that pleases God and is a fruit of our common baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Paul Dinolfo is the senior coordinator of the Work of Christ Community in Lansing, Michigan, USA. He is a former president of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit.

[This article was first published in the Sword of the Spirit North American Region (NAR) Newsletter, April Issue, 2017. See NAR website and Newsletter archive.]

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