Published in the Rains County Leader on August 20, 2019:
According to several on-line dictionaries, community is 1) a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common and 2) a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
Last weekend I attended the 5th Annual White Chapel Girls Retreat at the White Chapel Bed & Breakfast in Mountain Home, Texas. Every year about this time, a dozen women withdraw from everyday responsibilities and gather for Bible study and prayer along with lots of food and fellowship.
Before it became a B and B, the site of the retreat was simply the home of Julee White, a woman with a heart that is much bigger than the six acres on which she lives. She has the gift of hospitality, and because of this, she has become the go-to place for strays of all kinds. At present, she has 4 dogs, 4 cats, 7 goats, and 3 donkeys in residence. The dogs and cats have free access through a pet door into the laundry room where they find a variety of food and water dishes which, although intended to be species specific, are often shared equally. The donkeys and goats share their food with each other as well as with the small herd of deer that sidle over when they hear the door to the feed shed squeak open. In addition to the four-legged critters, Julee feeds her feathered friends from countless hummingbird and regular bird feeders. The deer have been known to help themselves to the spillage there as well. Because of her many mealtime guests, especially the goats who have become very well-rounded since coming to live with her, Julee originally named her place the F & H (Fat & Happy) Ranch .
Julee also has many human friends, and her home is a museum of their love. Her lawn is encircled by a walking path lined with yard art, and her front walk is embedded with mementos, all from people who love her. The interior of her home is filled with treasures, and she can tell you who gave her each piece and when.
However, the focal point is the White Chapel, also referred to as the Broken Chapel. Several years ago, Julee felt a Divine Call to build a chapel toward the back of her property. She tried to brush the idea off, but it wouldn’t go away. She wanted it to have special meaning, so she sent out a call to friends for materials that were broken or discarded from other projects, and the response was overwhelming. The resulting chapel is more than can be described in this small space, but it is all she had imagined and more.
In 2014 Julee received a call from two friends who wanted to organize several women’s retreats, and they wanted to know if she wanted to participate. “Now I know why God wanted me to build the Chapel,” she said through tears. “Can we have one here?”
Friend invited friend, and in August of 2015 ten women invaded Julee’s home for the first annual White Chapel Girls Retreat. We were all a little uneasy at first. Some of us knew only one other person, and the teacher had never done anything of this scope, but Julee wasn’t fazed. She spread air mattresses on the floor, pulled casseroles out of the freezer, and by the end of the long weekend, we were all Fat and Happy sisters.
Five years later, the F & H Ranch has become the White Chapel Bed & Breakfast, and the White Chapel Girls, now an even dozen, have become a community. For most of the year, we live in places scattered across the country, but for one weekend a year we live together. I don’t know if that qualifies us as a community, but we definitely have a particular characteristic in common – we all believe in Jesus as our personal Savior. As for the second definition, that fits us to a Tee. Throughout the year, we share attitudes, interests, and goals through Facebook and email so that each year there is a feeling of fellowship as if we had been apart days instead of months.
On our last night together, we shared Communion in the Chapel. Community and Communion come from the same root word, and one definition of Communion is sharing or exchanging intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level. As we communicated with God and remembered His sacrifice, we also looked around the circle and thanked God for each other.
Our world has become a scattered place where we can live, work, shop, and travel without ever seeing another person. But like Julee’s menagerie of birds and animals, we were made for community. “Reach out and touch someone” is more than a telephone company commercial.