The community in which I lived was called "Koinonia", or more properly "Koinonia Foundation". The word is derived from the Greek, meaning "shared fellowship". It was situated on 45 acres of hilly ground in the posh Greenspring Valley area of Baltimore County, MD, very near Villa Julie College, and adjoining the Rosa Ponselle estate.
It was founded sometime around 1951, by a group called the "Twelve Prayerful Men", including Frank Laubach ("Father of Literacy"), and M. Glenn Harding, whom I came to know personally. The original intent of the community, as I remember, was to provide a training ground for those who intended to go overseas to third world nations as part of the literacy crusade. Many times, it was said, people would experience such culture shock that they would be useless in their intended mission, so these men proposed to immerse these people in an atmosphere that approximated what they might find, including interaction with people of other cultures and races.
In the search for a physical site upon which to build this institution, they looked at various places in Baltimore County, which at that time was quite rural only a few miles from the city limits. One place they considered was the present site of St. Timothy's School, about a mile to the south on Greenspring Ave. However, I believe it was Glenn Harding who had a dream about a place with a fountain, and when they looked at the estate that originally belonged to the Brewsters, he found that very fountain and declared it to be the place they were searching for. I believe it was purchased for about $45,000, which was probably a bargain even at that time for 45 acres, a three story mansion, and various outbuildings.
The period from 1951 to 1970 is out of my scope of experience, although it is important because many of the residents and staff were part of the community during that time, and it necessarily colored the collective spirit of Koinonia. Briefly, it was heavily influenced by a fairly open-minded form of Christianity, which included a Quaker flavor of meditation and some Buddhist ideas, as well as an emphasis on the sanctity of the earth and organic gardening.
In the early 1970s the Board of Directors, under the leadership of the newly appointed Director, David Poist, recognized a growing need to address the problems of college aged youth in the United States, who were seen to be growing increasingly alienated from the mainstream culture, and often dropping out of schools because of dissatisfaction with their choice of majors and the general direction of their lives. I first became acquainted with the Koinonia community in the summer of 1970, when Dave Poist gave a speech at a church youth group in which I was briefly active. In November of the same year I attended a conference on "Human Sexuality" given at Koinonia, and came to know a few of the people there. My treatise entitled "Personal Views on Life and Love in Community" goes into my gradual integration into the community in more detail.
The members of the Koinonia community must be considered as at least two distinct groups. The long-time residents, who generally provided full time service to the community, determined in the largest part how the community operated on a day to day basis. Many received a small stipend in addition to room and board, and were essentially employees of the Foundation. These people interacted at various levels with the community in general, depending on their individual temperament. There was a large degree of privacy available, by virtue of having a large physical plant with many widely spaced outbuildings, as well as isolated apartments in some of the main buildings. A structured form of interaction was in the form of staff meetings, which were (at least in the early period) very businesslike and utilitarian.
The newly developed programs, known as the "January Convergence" and the "Alternative Semesters", brought into the community mostly second and third year college students, but sometimes attracted older people who could afford to take some extended leave from their careers, and other young adults who were offered scholarships in return for physical work or professional contributions. These people usually were quickly oriented into the lifestyle of the community, but did not initially have much influence on the basic structure and direction of the programs.
I found myself in the somewhat unique position of having a staff position, responsible for transportation duties, but in the form of a scholarship so that I could attend classes with the students. Most of the other staff, I think, regarded me as a regular staff member, but it seemed that the director always wanted to maintain the fine distinction, possibly so as to avoid the legal and financial ramifications of having me as an employee. Later, as problems developed between various factions of the community, I found myself in personal disfavor with him, and any chance of my attaining a more permanent status was gone.
I am not sure what attracted me to the communal living style. Of course, the possibility of amorous relationships was constantly on my mind, as it would be to most healthy 22 year old males. It was especially attractive to me because I had not had much experience with social interaction up to that time, and I felt out of place in most venues such as bars and night clubs. When some of my closest friends from college left the area, I found very few opportunities to meet other people. My natural shyness was also a limiting factor. In an intentional community, especially having a position which required me to interact with most of the people on a daily basis, I had a very convenient means for opening communication and eventual friendship. Unfortunately, my occasional attempts to cross the line to more intimate and physical relationships were repulsed, and led to frustration, disappointment, and periods of depression. I have several theories about why this happened, but that subject is out of the scope of this article.
The books that most influenced me during my period of communal involvement in the early 70s included "The Phenomenon of Man" by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and "Walden" by Thoreau. The former was required literature for the first "January Convergence", and it postulated the "convergence" of evolution in the future toward a sort of divine consciousness. The latter, of course, was essentially about simplification of life as a means to achieve self-reliance and happiness, without much interaction with other people. I don't recall reading anything specifically about community.
The war in Vietnam did not have any direct bearing on my communal experience, but it had a deep personal effect. It was, in fact, a central reason for my having dropped out of Johns Hopkins in my Senior year. In the summer of 1969, while Woodstock was happening not far to the north, I was experiencing the traumatic experience of six weeks of ROTC basic training at Ft. Indiantown Gap. When I learned more details of the atrocities being committed there, and the nearly psychotic eagerness with which the higher officers embraced this chance to hone their battle strategies, I could no longer concentrate on my studies. I essentially "shut down", and entered a period of not quite clinical depression. Fortunately, at Koinonia I met a woman who was a Psychiatrist, and after I told the draft board that I was under her care, I did not hear from them again.
Daily life at Koinonia was somewhat different for the full-time residents and students. The staff usually worked standard eight-hour days, although exact time schedules were not required. Some staff members also had outside jobs. Most of the community got together for meals, and some started off the day with sunrise meditation. Once a week or so a group from the community was assigned to CIHU, which is an acronym for "Can I Help yoU", and was essentially a team for household chores. It mostly involved kitchen work and household cleaning, much like the Army's KP. Half of the day, for the students especially, was spent on work in the organic garden. Some who were especially interested may have spent most of the day there. It was considered a class as well as necessary labor, and participation varied with need and weather, as may be expected. Most classes, I think, were held in the afternoons, and some were in the evening. They included art, music, literature, philosophy, photography, modern dance, and creative writing. After dinner, in the evenings, there were sometimes scheduled activities, such as community singing and Friday night films. Some of us liked to get together in the "tack room" in the old carriage house known as "The Annex", to watch TV, and just generally socialize.
The Koinonia community had a heritage of Christianity, but the '70s saw an upsurge in Eastern religions and interest in the mildly occult studies of astrology, Tarot, etc. Some of the staff members were, to varying degree, against these influences, but they were generally accepted within an atmosphere of tolerance and a desire to share common truths. I think that the communal meals were prefaced by the saying of Grace by The Reverend David Poist, and there were other rituals such as group singing and hugs, but they were not perceived as a central focus, but more as a general expression of the spirit.
Early in my times at Koinonia, the food was prepared by a Mrs. Berry, who was very English and ruled the kitchen with an iron thumb. She positively would not allow anyone to smoke in her kitchen. It was said that, around World War II, she was a cook in an English hospital, and Winston Churchill came in with his omnipresent cigar. Although she was in awe of the man, she still demanded that he "put out that cigar" before he came into her kitchen. While she was in charge, the meals were basically wholesome, but quite institutional. She insisted on white bread, for instance, claiming that the coarser rye and whole wheat would "tear up your insides". Many of the participants were into health foods of various kinds, and sometimes would cook and eat their own meals.
Eventually, she retired, and some of us in the community took over the cooking chores, but not without occasional mishaps. Once, I volunteered to help cook spaghetti. I thought that a pound of the pasta would feed about 2 or three people, and since we expected about 50, I grabbed twenty pounds of it from the pantry. Since it required about two quarts of water per pound, I filled the largest pots I could find with about 50 quarts of water, and put them on the stove about a half hour before dinner time. Meanwhile, my partner had filled a twenty quart pot with many cans of tomato sauce, spices, ground beef, etc., and put that on another burner. As dinnertime approached, people peeked in and asked when it would be ready. Unfortunately, the water was by then only a bit warm, and the sauce was just starting to bubble. We finally were able to speed up the heating of the water by using several smaller pots, and they eventually boiled and yielded reasonably well-cooked spaghetti. Meanwhile, watching the bubbling cauldron of sauce, someone noticed that, when the bubbles popped, it looked like smoke, rather than steam, was coming out, and it also smelled like smoke. When we used a longer spoon, we found that about the bottom two inches of the pot had burned and solidified. We were able to transfer most of the sauce to another pot, but the sauce had a distinct charcoal flavor. Only about 25 people had shown up for dinner, and some of them didn't wait for it to be finished, so only a small portion of the prodigious pot of pasta was consumed, and we spent most of the rest of the evening storing the remainder and chipping out the charred remains of the sauce.
Usually, more experienced cooks held sway, and the meals were generally healthy and tasty. We had a tradition of having only soup one day a week, donating the money saved to a charity. The meals were generally served cafeteria style, and usually included salad, one or two main courses, several vegetables, and dessert. Once, after a massive effort to rake leaves, our hungry work crew came into the dining room and were chagrined to find a huge salad bowl full of brightly colored leaves. Now that's macrobiotic!
The community was financed by the interest on its endowment, contributions, and tuition paid by students. There were also sometimes special events that raised some money, and there was a gift shop that sold a few items, but income from those sources was negligible. There was a fairly well-equipped print shop that may have occasionally done work for people outside the community, but I think the main source of income, other than tuition, was charitable donations. In later years (and perhaps even today), the garden was used to produce organic crops for sale, but there just isn't enough suitable acreage to provide much income, and farming is very labor-intensive and risky.
The land and buildings were owned by the Foundation, which was governed by the board of directors, who seemed to relegate essentially total control to the director, David Poist, who "reigned" the entire time I was actively a participant at Koinonia. We had weekly staff meetings, and anyone in the community was permitted to attend and speak, but the final decisions were in David's hands. Early in the "experiment", he seemed to have a clear and tenable vision, but as an undercurrent of dissension grew among many of the staff and other residents, he seemed to adapt a "pompous air" and perhaps was a bit caught up in his position of power. With minimal input from the board, he began to rule with a heavy hand, and became more distant from most of the community, in my estimation.
The physical plant at Koinonia was probably mostly in place at the time of its purchase in 1951, and the only buildings that likely were added since then were the memorial building, which consisted of about eight apartments, and the Quonset hut, which was probably obtained from military surplus. The staff mostly resided in small individual houses, with quaint names like "Acorn" and "Honeybrook", or apartments in the larger frame houses known as "California" and "Hope Chest". The director and his family lived in a large central house, possibly known as "Literacy", and others had apartments in the main mansion, Gramercy. The students generally had rooms of various sizes in either the "Annex", which was originally a carriage house, or the "Garden House", which was a low building which was half below ground level.
The "Annex", where I spent most of my time, had a fascinating variety of rooms, ranging from a tiny "Monk's cell", just barely able to contain a single bed, desk, and chair, to a suite of comfortable rooms. There were two large bathrooms upstairs, with shower facilities. The larger (and nicer) of the two was designated as the men's room, but it was eventually "liberated" for occasional use by the women. Downstairs was a large central room, eventually called "George's Room" in honor of a large papier-mâché sculpture so nicknamed. Adjacent to that was a moderate sized kitchen, and an old "tack room" that was equipped with a TV, several chairs, and a large sofa, as well as "shelves" suitable for perching. There were also two wings, one of which housed the photography lab (darkroom) and print shop, and the other consisted of the large, sparse, fluorescently lit "Gallery", and the rarely opened tiny gift shop.
The variety of housing arrangements resulted in some divisiveness. The "Annex" people, with whom I most strongly identified, seemed to be the instigators or hosts of most of the extra-curricular activities, such as parties, probably because of the size of the public areas. The students in the "Garden House" mostly seemed to stay to themselves, but this may be because they were often from the same school, and some were long-time couples. There was considerable visiting and mixing, however, and there seemed to be a good mix of privacy and access.
Generally, the community was receptive and open to visitors. Mostly, they were friends of those who were already there, but sometimes people would just drive up out of curiosity. The students, especially, seemed to enjoy and welcome visitors, often encouraging overnight or longer stays. The staff, on the other hand, often disapproved, and cited the policy of requiring payment for overnight stays or meals. After I left the community, I often visited my friends there, and made new ones. Usually, I came at night, partied with the "hard core" (later the Greenspring Valley Goodfellows Club) in the TV room, and often spent the night in an unoccupied room. Sometimes I even brought my tent, and spent the night in the woods, to avoid the rather steep overnight fee, but mostly I just got up before anybody from the staff came snooping around.
There were several families living there, some with children, and it seemed to be healthy for everyone involved. The children were accepted as members of the community, but were raised by their parents according to their rules. There was much interaction, however, and I think this was helpful in providing a wider range of adult influence.
Individuality was encouraged. As products of the revolutionary sixties, we experimented with various forms of dress and behavior. Some of the older staff members may have disapproved, but there was never any issue with style or individual lifestyle choices. Even occasional nudity was tolerated, but only infrequently and furtively, as in midnight skinny dipping and the liberated showers in the men's room.
The community was overwhelmingly supportive of artistic expression. It was manifested in the form of group singing, cooperative sculptures, art classes, music lessons, crafts, photography, modern dance, and even an original play. It was helpful to have in residence several artists, musicians, dancers, and craftspeople.
In the early sixties, of course, psychedelic drugs were popular, especially among those of college age. As a predominantly spiritual and expressly educational institution, illegal drugs were officially banned, and there was not really too much widespread use. I do not know of any use of LSD or any hard drugs such as heroin, but marijuana and hash were sometimes used by a few of the students and even one or two of the permanent staff. In later years, someone actually had planted a good-sized crop of marijuana in an isolated area, but it was discovered and destroyed. There was quite a stir among the staff about this, but it was determined that it was done by former participants who were now frequent visitors. One problem that this drug use caused was the occasional appearance of some rather unsavory characters who were probably there to buy or sell marijuana.
According to some stories, there was considerable bed-hopping, mostly among students and sometimes involving staff. Personally, I was excluded from this activity, and I was mostly oblivious to its presence. This was supposed to be the era of free love, but from my viewpoint, its physical manifestation was not given freely, but rather selfishly.
Overall, my several years of experience at Koinonia were some of the most intense times of my life. Because of the "political" situation there, I was unable to become a permanent member of the community, and now that the estate has been sold and the people dispersed, that particular chapter in my life is closed. However, I still draw much inspiration and strength from my memories of my times there. It was an incredible time of growth, and perhaps it prepared me well for my subsequent adventures in life. I intend to learn more about other intentional communities, and although I'm sure I will never find one quite the same as Koinonia, there may be one that attracts me enough to join it. If I do, I hope that my wealth of experience will help me to be a better member of that community, and enable me to assist in its growth.