As 14 inches of snow fell on Augusta one February weekend in 1973, a small group of snowbound men and women gave name to the new ecumenical covenant community they had formed in Augusta.
Forty years ago today, the Alleluia Community was born. The community, which now numbers more than 700, celebrated 40 years of ministry in Augusta and beyond this weekend.
“The name means the inexpressible joy of the Lord,” said Elder Bob Garrett, a member since 1976. “That’s what it means to be a member of the Alleluia Community.”
Alleluia is not a church, but a community of Christians from more than 12 denominations who make a covenant with God and one another. They promise to serve one another, give to those in need and raise godly sons and daughters. They celebrate birthdays, weddings and anniversaries together. They watch one another’s kids.
At any given time, there are upwards of 200 neighbors to ask for a cup of sugar.
“As a community, we really love each other,” Garrett said. “It has become for us like a large family. We think of one another like brothers and sisters. We try to be there in good times and bad times.”
Last month, community elders called a special covenant signing to welcome back two of its founders: Bill and Laurette Beatty.
It was in their living room the weekend of Augusta’s big snow that the Alleluia Community covenant was drafted.
“An adventure it was! The house was full with the Beatty family of five, McBride family of six (almost seven), and Clark family of four. Father Mike Burke and the Ledbetter family of four were to come the next day,” Karen Murrell, a founding member, wrote in a recent issue of the Alleluia Dove, the community’s weekly newsletter.
It was around the Beatty’s dining room table that the first members of the Alleluia Community ratified a covenant that Bill Beatty wrote in the only quiet room he could find: the bathroom.
Today, Alleluia has 337 members who have made lifetime commitments. Most live together in south Augusta.
It’s not a requirement, but most people chose to, said Elder Bob Nestor, a member since 1976.
“Most everybody is here in what we call Faith Village,” he said. “It’s a special experience.”
Faith Village started with just 18 houses, but now has more than 100.
“It grew a house, or three houses or 20 houses at a time,” Garrett said. “We have found that community life, with almost no exception, is a fantastic way to live. We’d like to see more people do it.”
Nestor likens it to the sorts of neighborhoods many people grew up with a generation ago.
“It’s like it was when I was a kid,” he said. “If you had done something, the neighbor was going to tell your mom. They keep you honest.”
Members of the community meet in each other’s homes for weekly support groups, meals and prayers.
The shape of the Alleluia Community’s ministry has changed over the years, but some things are constant. The community was founded just weeks after the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the U.S. It sponsors weekly vigils outside local clinics that offer abortions among their services.
The community also sponsors several of Augusta’s largest faith events, including an upcoming National Day of Prayer event and Easter cross walk. It’s a co-sponsor of the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and many other events, where it works behind the scenes.
Ultimately, however, the goal isn’t to function like a church ministry, but to produce a community of Christian believers who carry out ministry within their own churches, Garrett said.
There are Catholics and Pentecostals, Lutherans and Messianic Jews, Anglicans, Methodists and more.
Several of the community’s members are ordained.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve produced a number of priests and church leaders,” said Elder Dan Almeter, a member of the community for 35 years.
The community wouldn’t have lasted if its members hadn’t found a way to celebrate diversity in its midst, Garrett added.
“Most people don’t think in terms of committing to a group for life,” Garrett said. “We have a serious commitment. We try to work out our differences, and we have a lot of them. Our similarities are far greater, though. We outreach together. We evangelize together. We’re a community.”