Two years ago fourteen-year-old Karthik Nemmani won the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This caught my attention as I breezed through the news that day as it reminded me of an incident that occurred during my own childhood.

Our junior high classes  at the public school that I attended gathered one day to have a spelling contest where everyone was forced to participate. As I recall we were given little to no preparation for this exercise in which each one of us had to take a turn standing up front before everyone, be given our mystery word, and then attempt an accurate spelling. Talk about trauma.

To the surprise of the teachers and my fellow students (and myself), after several elimination rounds I actually came in second. I was beaten by a stereotype, a studious looking girl who wore glasses, which didn’t bother me at all because it meant that I could return to the safe anonymity of my desk.

But there is another reason that this years National Spelling Bee caught my attention. The word that Nemmani successfully spelled to clinch the title was Koinonia. 

Generally, words that are chosen to test the mettle of the contestants are words that are obscure, dwelling in the alleys of public discourse, rather than in its thoroughfares. But Koinonia? Wow. They dug this one up in Webster’s graveyard of the archaic.   

Koinonia, as you might recall, is the Greek word for fellowship though the idea goes much deeper than that. Koinonia means “life together.” I had been revisiting this vital dynamic of our faith lately and was both glad and sad that it surfaced the way it did in our national news.

The glad part was based upon a hope that many believers would be struck as I was that OUR word was in the spotlight and perhaps many would talk about it and return to a deliberate focus of sacred community. The sad part is that both the word, its meaning and its practice, is presently obscure to not just the world but also the church as well.

These days, as we witness the desire for unity and also the feeble and misinformed efforts of forming a utopia without the guidelines of the Creator of all mankind, we should strive to be the people we are called to be. 

Koinonia is the result of biblically walking with Christ—“if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”. Unity and harmony, love and peace, this is a Christian thing. I’m afraid that the reason the world keeps looking for it is because we’ve kept this under a bushel. 

For the light of the Second Adam, the One that is the Way the Truth and the Life, to shine…we have to come to understand the vital difference between going to church and being the church.