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Archive for the ‘Communities’ Category


David Janzen’s experience in Christian intentional community spans the greater part of four decades. In the early ‘70s, David and his family helped found New Creation Fellowship in Newton, Kansas. In 1984, they moved to Reba Place Fellowship, an urban, income-sharing community founded in 1957 in Evanston, Illinois, affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Since coming to Reba Place Fellowship, David has assisted in the community’s refugee asylum project, served on their leadership team, directed an affordable housing ministry, and is currently focusing his energies on mentoring the new generation of communities associated with the new monasticism movement. He is the author of two books, each the fruit of visiting and researching Christian intentional communities throughout North America: Fire, Salt and Peace: Intentional Christian Communities Alive in North America (Good Books, November 1996) and the forthcoming Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus (Paraclete Press, November 2012). The latter, due for publication this fall, reflects David’s responses to questions gathered from visits with contemporary communities, arranged in a developmental sequence according to the needs and concerns of communities at various stages of growth, including advice for those seeking community.

In our conversation, David and I discuss the three historical waves of North American Christian intentional communities to the present: from the energetic idealism and experimentation of the 60s and early 70s, to the less visible but more stable emergence of communities in the 80s and 90s, to the current generation of new monastics eager to learn from those who came before them. While all share a common bond in Christian faith, many inspired by the radical social and economic template laid out in the Sermon on the Mount and the description of the early Jerusalem community in the Acts of the Apostles, each wave has its distinct characteristics, reflecting the social context and concerns of their day. David weighs in on the particular strengths of the current generation, especially their identification with the wider Christian communal tradition, namely monasticism, and their enthusiastic welcome of the help of their elders. On the other hand, deluged by the seemingly unlimited options of our hypermobile culture, and often enough coming from broken households themselves, the current generation tends to bear a woundedness and a reticence toward stable commitments that require special attention.

David also traces the development of three related networks of communities of which he’s been a part: the Shalom Association of Communities (1972-85), Shalom Mission Communities (1996-present), and his current work with the Nurturing Communities Project. The latter reflects the efforts of a dozen or so communities, in light of the needs of the current groundswell of new monastic communities, to establish new community-networks in order to provide help, encouragement, and accountability for one another. In fact, members from participating communities (approximately 50 people) will be meeting this September at Saint John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, to explore possibilities and learn from the monks who are hosting them.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Photo by Scott Langley

Imagine Benedictine monasteries hosting conferences and providing help to lay people looking to incorporate monastic values and practices into their lives. Nothing new, you say. People have been flocking to such monasteries, especially over the past couple of decades, gleaning wisdom and guidance on contemplative prayer, Lectio Divinaliturgy of the hours, and other portable practices. For now, though, let’s reconfigure this image so that these particular practices passed on to lay people are first located in their monastic context. What might it look like, then, for monks and nuns to transmit the more foundational principles and practices of their way of life, such as common ownership and structures that break down inherited socioeconomic divisions between people?  In other words, what forms might such a monasticism-in-the-world take that, like Saint Benedict and the tradition he consolidated in his Rule, understood concern with economic realities to be as intrinsic to a life of prayer as prayer itself?

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is Associate Minister at the historically African-American St. Johns Baptist Church, directs the School for Conversion, a nonprofit organization that educates people in Christian community, and has authored a handful of books, including God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth GospelThe Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, and a contemporary paraphrasing and commentary to The Rule of Saint Benedict. Jonathan is also editor of the New Monastic Library Series (Cascade Books) and associate editor of the Resources for Reconciliation Series (InterVarsity Press).

In 2003, Jonathan and his wife Leah co-founded the new monastic community Rutba House in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina (the community is named after the town of Rutba, Iraq, where injured members of their Christian Peacemaker Team were given medical care in a hospital that had been bombed by U.S. forces only three days prior). The community at present consists of two houses and fourteen members (including four children) who share a common life of daily prayer, meals, mutual support, hospitality, and active peacemaking.  They live by a modified common-purse economy, working full or part time and contributing 30-40% of their income to the community. These shared resources in turn cover not only all household expenses (including a car co-op) but also enable them to provide meals, housing, and other forms of hospitality to homeless or struggling friends in the neighborhood.

Rutba House Members and Friends

In our conversation, Jonathan and I discuss the meaning of monastic social and economic relocation in the context of today’s largely urban, non-cloistered new monasticism movement, especially as lived at Rutba House.  For the 4th century monastics of the Egyptian desert, this relocation represented a physical flight from the dominant culture into uninhabited places, in order to focus unerringly upon the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and to confront more directly the spiritual forces at work in the world and in themselves. As an heir to this tradition, in the 6th century, Saint Benedict of Nursia configured this relocation in the context of self-contained, cloistered monastic communities. For today’s new monastics, Jonathan believes, the call to relocation is not primarily to uninhabited regions or even to cloistered, celibate monastic communities, but rather to set down roots as families and single people living together in the ‘abandoned places’: those areas scarred by social, cultural, and economic marginalization.

Drawing on monastic sources as well as contemporary civil rights wisdom, particularly John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association movement, Jonathan speaks about how Rutba House has concretely sought to take the values of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution seriously. We discuss the community’s in-house economy and its outflow to the neighborhood, and the ways in which this outflow has fostered forgiveness and friendships based on trust, in place of suspicion. In fact, Jonathan uses the language of repentance to describe this deliberate movement of taking responsibility for inherited economic and racial privilege, and seeking to break down these barriers that divide the family of God. For Jonathan, this movement of small, inconspicuous, locally-rooted intentional communities embodies the kind of transformative social engagement, the leaven within the dough, practiced and prescribed by Jesus in the Gospels and by monastics in every age, according to the particular needs of their time and place.

Other people, places, and things mentioned in this interview: 12 Marks of the New MonasticismS. Margaret McKenna of the Medical Missionary SistersNew Jerusalem Laura; John Cassian on the Three Renunciations.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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“I don’t know whether you’ve ever walked over a piece of ground that could almost cry out to you and say, ‘Heal me, heal me!’ I don’t know whether you feel the closeness to the soil that I do. But when you fill in those old gullies and terrace the fields and you begin to feel the springiness of the sod beneath your feet and you see that old land come to life, and when you walk through a little old pine forest that you set out in little seedlings and now you see them reaching for the sky and hear the wind through them; when you walk a little further over a bit of ground where your child is buried, and you go on over to a hill where your children and all the many visitors have held picnics. When you walk across a creek where you’ve bathed in the heat of the summer. Men say to you “Why don’t you sell it and move away?” They might as well ask you, “Why don’t you sell your mother?” Somehow God has made us out of this old soil and we go back to it and we never lose its claim on us. It isn’t a simple matter to leave it.”

—Koinonia Farm co-founder Clarence Jordan

Yet another sign of rebirth and renewal at Koinonia Farm. Shortly after Brendan Prendergast’s arrival at Koinonia with his wife Sarah and their daughter Ida in 2006 (a second daughter, Kellan, would be born within the year), the community heard and blessed his passion for the land and entrusted him with the management of their 575 acres of farmland. A significant portion of that land had for years been committed to pecan production, and Brendan envisioned how to integrate their staple crop within a broader design plan through application of the principles of permaculture.

Permaculture design was first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s in Tasmania, Australia, and has since evolved into a flexible set of practical principles built around the core ethics of earth care, people care, and fair distribution. The aim of these principles is to design regenerative landscapes that also take into consideration the social and economic aspects of any human settlement, in all climates and contexts, including urban environments. In fact, in our discussion, Brendan expresses his surprise when permaculture teacher and Earthaven Ecovillage member Chuck Marsh devoted most of his initial consultation with the community on matters of business structures and interpersonal dynamics.

Pineywoods Cattle under the Pecan Trees

Since their initial consultation with Chuck, Koinonia Farm has hosted permaculture and natural building courses with Patricia Allison (also of Earthaven Ecovillage), Cliff Davis of Spiral Ridge Permaculture, and Wayne Weiseman of the Permaculture Project LLC, among other instructors. These workshops have provided opportunities for community members and others to receive hands-on training in the application of permaculture principles, while also inviting the input of a diverse range of people in tackling various design possibilities on the land.

Pecan Orchards at Koinonia Farm

In our conversation, Brendan speaks of how he first encountered permaculture through friends while living and working in Cincinnati, how permaculture design has taken root at Koinonia, and how connecting with God through God’s creation and through being a steward of the land is central to his Christian faith. He also offers specific examples of applied permaculture design at Koinonia, especially the introduction of livestock and the soil-enhancing and other benefits of their grazing among the pecan orchards.

Other resources mentioned in this interview: Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, by Bill Mollison

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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In this second half of my conversation with Bren Dubay, we speak of the rich tapestry of relations Koinonia Farm now enjoys, with communities already mentioned in the previous episode (Jubilee Partners, Reba Place Fellowship, Church of the Servant King) as well as with the Bruderhof, an early 20th century addition to the Anabaptist communal family tree (which also includes the Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, among others). Formed in Germany on the cusp of the rise of Nazism, the Bruderhof were expelled from their native country after refusing to allow Nazi teachers to instruct their children. Finding their way first to England, then Paraguay, the Bruderhof finally set roots in the United States with the help of Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm in the 1950s. Here, Bren tells the story of how this friendship between the two communities has recently, serendipitously been rekindled, and the intimate bond of mutual help and learning that’s rapidly emerging.

Koinonia Farm has also been adopted by the contemporary New Monasticism movement, who consider Koinonia one of its pioneering forerunners. In fact, Bren is part of a network of new monastic communities currently exploring how they might strengthen relations among themselves. She also expresses her strong conviction that this movement’s future lies not only in strengthened bonds with one another, but with the classic monastic tradition. To this end, the core members of Koinonia are currently engaged in a close reading of the Rule of Saint Benedict, with commentary by Joan Chittister, OSB, and plan to continue this practice of shared reading and discussion with other monastic literature. Several members also retreat at nearby Cistercian Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA.

Members of Koinonia Farm with Bruderhof Friends

In addition to these topics, Bren and I discuss communication and trust in community, and how she looks forward to the collective maturity that comes only with time, longstanding commitment, and patience.

What excites me most about Koinonia Farm at this time in their history is this unique confluence of influences: of its own profound spiritual legacy interfacing with that of the Bruderhof, representing the classic Anabaptist tradition (what Ivan Kauffman refers to as the “old” new monasticism), and the younger generation of communitarians involved in the New Monasticism. Koinonia Farm also exhibits the strongest inclination I’ve seen thus far toward seeking ways to learn from and build concrete relationships with the classic monastic tradition. Taken together, these factors render Koinonia Farm a key community to watch as the New Monasticism movement continues to evolve and reach for greater maturity and stability.

Other people and resources mentioned in this interview: Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, School(s) for Conversion.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, was founded in 1942 by Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England, with the intention of being a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God” and helping the region’s poor, struggling farming families. Foremost among the biblical values they sought to embody were economic sharing among themselves and with their neighbors, racial equality and reconciliation, and compassionate nonviolence. Due to their pacifist stance during World War II and inter-racial composition, the community quickly gained a reputation as an irritant to the surrounding culture. In fact, during much of the 50s and 60s, Koinonia Farm endured all manner of persecution, including cross-burnings, death threats, gunfire, expulsion from local churches, fire-bombing, and a prolonged economic boycott by local businesses. Undaunted by these trials, in the late 60s, Koinonia Farm began the partnership housing movement, building affordable homes for low-income local families. Seeing the global potential of this movement, community members Millard and Linda Fuller went on to expand the endeavor beyond its local scale, giving birth to Koinonia’s most famous contribution, Habitat for Humanity International.

According to Bren Dubay, steward (vowed member) and current Director of Koinonia Farm, while the community enjoyed a certain kind of expansion and growth during the partnership housing era, the very forces underlying that expansion were at the same time subtly eroding the original communal vision. Short-term volunteers swelled the ranks through the late 60s and 70s, motivated more by a particular cause than by the aspiration to embody Christian koinonia, or community, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. As one longtime member succinctly described the scene, “The tail began to wag the dog.” Finally, in 1993, with the decision to reorganize Koinonia according to a more conventional non-profit business model, what remained of the original communal pattern of life was dismantled. Consequently, Koinonia’s focus grew more diffuse, and financial losses were suffered in the process of moving from a common-purse economy to paid employees. By 2003, it was clear that a fresh vision and new leadership for the community were needed. To this end, the Board of Directors sought to hire a new Executive Director. That’s where Bren enters the story.

Prior to her arrival at Koinonia Farm, Bren Dubay had worked and served as a spiritual director, retreat leader, playwright, Montessori educator, fundraiser, and development consultant. In May of 2003, she rather innocently took a group of students on a field trip to Americus, Georgia, to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. As they were preparing to leave, she reluctantly accepted an invitation to take the students to Koinonia Farm, Habitat’s birthplace. Unbeknownst to her, this visit would trigger a series of events that have since turned her life in a surprising, radically new direction. Within a year, in May of 2004, Bren moved to Koinonia as its new Executive Director. Within another year’s time, she was leading the community in a retrieval of its original communal inspiration.

Koinonia Farm Members and Friends

In our conversation, the first of two podcast episodes with Bren, she tells the story of her entering the stream of Koinonia’s rich, diverse history, the decision to return to the original communal vision and how that process has unfolded over the course of 7 years thus far, challenges and mistakes made along the way, and her own sense of inner peace amid the difficulties. We speak of particular changes, such as restructuring the Board of Directors to include one member apiece from 3 other Christian intentional communities; namely, Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA (a community that welcomes refugees from war-torn countries, founded by members of Koinonia in the late 70s), Reba Place Fellowship in Chicago, IL (inspired by Koinonia), and Church of the Servant King in Eugene, OR. Finally, Bren shares her joy in the revitalization of the community’s internship program as an expression of the founders’ intention that Koinonia serve as a “school of discipleship.” Through this program, and through other forms of hospitality, Koinonia Farm welcomes and feeds the spiritual hunger of a wide diversity of people, young and old and in between, of all manner of religious faiths or none at all.

What strikes me most in this part of my conversation with Bren is that hers is clearly a vocation story: of an unexpected invitation, of wrestling with the tension between wanting to say “no” yet knowing (without knowing why) to say “yes,” and of an underlying peace and mysterious satisfaction even through difficulties and trials. There’s humility and gratitude in the recognition of having received a graced opportunity to serve; and a posture of faith, even though the way forward may seem anything but clear at times. To my mind, these are the marks of true servant leadership, the branch grafted onto the Vine, and a vital sign of hope for Koinonia Farm’s uncharted future.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Mike Brantley returned to New Orleans, his native home, during Hurricane Katrina and, at the instigation of his wife Susanne, planted roots there a year later to pioneer Communitas, an ecumenical order of missional communities affiliated with InnerCHANGE and CRM. Up till this point, Mike had wrestled for years, as an Army officer and a pastor in various church contexts, with the fact that conventional models of “church” and “mission” simply weren’t reaching people in post-Christian Western culture. Influenced by the ancient Celtic monastic missionaries, the monastic orders, and a handful of people and communities involved in contemporary neo-monastic, New Friar, and missional movements (including some I’ve covered in this podcast, such as Church of the Sojourners, Mark Scandrette, and especially John Hayes and InnerCHANGE), in the ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans, Mike began to experiment in earnest with a model of church that integrates community and mission in a shared, committed way of life. At present, Communitas is comprised of residential communities embedded in three neighborhoods in New Orleans, and a fourth community in Valparaiso, Indiana. Mike is also known to be one heck of a lacrosse coach and is one of the most generous, warm-hearted people you’re likely to meet.

In my experience, Communitas typifies a model of church rooted in intentional relationships, with one another and with those in their neighborhoods. On the surface, especially to those of us accustomed to thinking of “church” as something that occurs in a place and time set apart from our ordinary daily round, and “mission” as applied strategies oriented toward re-making others according to our own religious convictions and ideals, this more diffuse, relational model may appear…well, kind of fuzzy. For instance, I spent one afternoon with a community member, Adam, who took me for a tour around town. We eventually settled in for deeper conversation at one of his “ministry spheres,” a local coffee shop. Better than any explanation he provided, simply watching how well he knew customers and employees alike, and how they spontaneously opened to him and shared about their lives, spoke reams of how a missional, communal church functions: real relationships, real caring, solidarity, and a posture of service and investment of one’s life in the lives of one’s neighbors. Whether or not such people choose to join the community for a meal or to pray, they know that the door is open, and are uplifted by authentic friendship. While members of Communitas may also participate in more conventional types of ministry, this overarching relational context renders them uniquely present and available, addressing real-world concerns through concrete relationships with those otherwise unaffiliated with Christian faith.

Adam also spoke in some detail of the formation he’s undergone as a member of Communitas, an aspect of their life that seems particularly thorough and well thought out. In fact, Mike attributes his past experiences as an Army officer with teaching him effective practices of formation that engender real transformation. He also draws upon a military analogy to explain the role of new communities and orders like Communitas in the church and world today: in the wake of ineffectual and outdated church structures, these pioneering communities are like the reconnaissance mission that forges ahead, tinkering, experimenting, and developing new systems and infrastructure for churches to come.

One concern that Mike brought to me involves finances. While some of the communities I’ve visited manage to meet most or all of their financial needs through support-raising (Servants Vancouver, InnerCHANGE Los Angeles), Communitas members work outside the community at least part-time. While this engenders a certain humility and provides a context for establishing themselves among and serving their neighbors, Mike laments that at present they’re not able to commit themselves fully to the mission to which they feel called, and as a consequence, their time and resources are often stretched to the hilt. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common challenge among lay intentional communities, with no easy solution.

In our conversation, in addition to topics already mentioned, Mike and I discuss the significance of being an order and learning from the classic religious orders; his hopefulness about younger generations; what he sees as the disintegration of Christendom and the opportunity for Christian communities to re-take their place on the margins as a subversive influence; what makes for healthy and unhealthy missional communities; the need for a greater emphasis on contemplative practice; and the satisfaction he takes in the risky venture of coloring outside the lines for the sake of the Kingdom. Typical of the relaxed, relational tone of so much of my experience of New Orleans, Mike and I lingered awhile outdoors over coffee, with a passer-by chiming in at one point, only to return to spontaneously lavish us with several loaves of bread on her next go-round.

Other people and resources mentioned in this interview: Stuart Murray; Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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“Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but accepting that they go away”                                                                                —Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

The last time I stopped in Gainesville on a bicycle tour almost 20 years ago, I didn’t leave till over three years later. I arrived without a strong religious orientation and left headed to a Zen Buddhist monastery. In other words, stopping in Gainesville, Florida, on a bicycle tour spells trouble if I’m invested in a certain religious status quo.

Over these past weeks, I chose to spend some time simply bicycling and camping because I know from experience that, not only do I derive tremendous satisfaction through this kind of simple, earthy travelling, but it also serves as a spiritual discipline: tuning out the voices of social expectation, personal idealism, and emotional attachments that no longer serve, and fostering a greater receptivity to spiritual intuition, even when this intuition seems to contradict my own desires. Hence, I believed that this time of biking would help me enter more deeply into the questions that resound in my own heart, and where these questions intersect with what I’m learning on this tour of communities. In fact, I got more than I bargained for.

I generally don’t seek to give something up or take on a new practice for Lent. The reason being, I have come to believe that God plays upon my life with often surprising attention to the rhythms of the liturgical calendar. In other words, rather than giving something up, I’ve found that some kind of loss or disorientation usually sneaks up on me right about the beginning of Lent. I expend my energies through the Lenten season, then, navigating this un-asked-for loss, seeking reorientation and a deeper reliance on spiritual help. This Lenten season has proven no different, except that the experience of loss and disorientation has less to do with anything happening in my outer life and relationships and more to do with uncovering those questions and doubts that simmered below the surface during my previous three years of theological education.

I introduced “Pilgrim Reflections” in my last post intending a series of sharing more about what’s happening within me and the kind of questions that I am wrestling with on a more personal level on this journey. However, after a dozen or so attempts to sit down at my laptop and tap out the next post, I’ve since had a change of mind and heart. There are two reasons for this. First, anything I write at this point on such a personal level would be too raw and tentative for a public forum. Secondly, in trying to interweave my personal journey with reflections on communities, I’ve found that both become rather murky. Rather, focusing objectively on communities helps ground and anchor me in something outside myself on this otherwise solo venture, while attending to my inner life allows me to be more present and wholeheartedly engaged with the communities and people I visit. And in order to maintain a healthy balance, the inner journey has to be bracketed to some extent from bleeding through overmuch into my more objective reflections on communities.

That said, I do want to begin the considerations that follow by sharing that, in general, the questions that I’ve been wrestling with revolve around religious identity and my perennial difficulty in “finding myself” within conventional religious institutions and systems of organized belief. And at least in this sense, I find that my personal journey and what people have shared with me in interviews and private conversations dovetail perfectly. In fact, what has emerged as a kind of overarching narrative to the story of emerging intentional communities is that we are all engaged in a massive historical shift in what it means to live a deeply intentional religious life. This theme was addressed explicitly in my first three interviews. Both Mary Ewing Stamps and Ivan Kauffman, for instance, see this shift in terms of historical cycles of deep mutations in our religious structures every 500 years, with the implication that we should expect nothing less than that we are living in a period of time analogous to the upheavals of the Reformation. And Mary Ewing Stamps, Mary Forman, OSB, and Ivan Kauffman all affirm that what’s facilitating these tectonic shifts today is dialogue: ecumenical, inter-religious, inter-cultural.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”                      —Isaiah 43:19

In the case of Mary Ewing Stamps, the theme of following the promptings of the Spirit toward developing surprising new structures of religious life through dialogue becomes most explicit. Formed within established Benedictine houses while remaining true to her Methodist heritage, she has gone on to establish an ecumenical, non-residential Benedictine monastery embracing both celibate and non-celibate members. Arising from the evangelical end of the continuum, I am particularly impressed by InnerCHANGE as another new expression of ecumenical religious life. Also embracing single people as well as families, modeled upon the historical example of Saint Francis and his followers, among others, and embedded within the framework of the larger missionary organization CRM, InnerCHANGE is poised at the forefront of developing formal structures to nurture and give expression to this impetus toward what Ivan Kauffman calls lay intentionality: patterns of religious life for lay people analogous to the intensity of commitment and intentionality as historically embodied in formally vowed, celibate orders.

Perhaps the most dramatic of structural mutations I’ve encountered thus far, however, is that of San Francisco Zen Center, relative to its roots in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. In the context of developing new structures, Buddhist communities in the West have at least two advantages over Christian monastic, neo-monastic and other movements. The first is a far more flexible institutional framework that lends itself to an adaptability exceeding that of formal Catholic orders. Secondly, Buddhist communities are also largely unburdened by the kind of historical amnesia and dissociation from tradition that new evangelical orders and movements are in the process of remedying. Hence, it is my hope that Christian monastics and neo-monastics alike might learn from their Buddhist sisters and brothers during this time of transition and experimentation.

And lest I get carried away by the apparent seamlessness of this emerging narrative, there’s Paula Huston’s critique of modernism and celebration of classic monasticism to interrupt the flow, or at least call it into question. Actually, I’ve been surprised by how many people have shared with me how much they appreciate her contribution. I say surprised because these are people who are highly sympathetic with newer movements but realize that the viability or potential viability of these movements lie in their ability to establish some formal connection or rootedness in ancient tradition. I see her critique less as a contradiction, then, as a potential warning or corrective to an overly enthusiastic embrace of change and the allure of novelty. In fact, it seems clear to me that this longing for ancient roots is part and parcel of what’s driving such movements at their best, embodying the creative tension articulated during Vatican II as a return to ancient sources while adapting these sources freshly to the unique needs, aspirations, and challenges of our moment in history. And if I can reiterate Ivan Kauffman’s strong admonition: the way forward is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue—of new movements and communities establishing relationships with classic orders in an ongoing conversation of mutual learning and growth. Evangelicals especially seem susceptible to getting carried away by the apparent discovery of some liberating new insight, only to see this initial explosion of enthusiasm quickly fizzle and fade as a seed cast on rocky ground (I think of Debbie Gish’s chuckling over the extreme presumptuousness and naiveté of her and her community-mates at the origins of Church of the Sojourners: “We found Acts 2 and we were the first ones to get it. Like, how come no one else noticed this before!!??”). Hence, she and others laud the shift in the air among Christian communitarians today in deliberately seeking out and incorporating the wisdom of those who are heirs to traditions of Christian community living that span centuries.

In closing, since these reflections have been a comfort to me, I want to convey to those readers who also haven’t “found themselves” within conventional religious structures, who feel prompted by the Spirit to press forward into an unknown future, that you are not alone. Far from it. Thanks be to God, hopeful signs are abundant.

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Catherine Rundle with Husband Alastair (left), Family, and Friends


InnerCHANGE emerged in the mid-1980s from the aspiration of John Hayes. While living and ministering with his family among immigrant neighbors in the most poverty-stricken, overcrowded street in Orange County, California, John recognized the urgent need to better enable missionaries to share more concretely in the lives and struggles of the poor to whom they minister. Identifying as “a Christian order among the poor,” ecumenical in composition, and affiliated with the larger mission organization CRM: Church Resource Ministries, InnerCHANGE communities have since taken root in impoverished neighborhoods in South and East Africa, Central and South America, London, Cambodia, Bangladesh, as well as a handful of urban centers in the United States.

I first encountered writing by and about InnerCHANGE while reading of the New Friars, a movement of Christian missionary communities seeking to live more integrally among the poor, in part through appropriating the wisdom of the classic religious orders. I was particularly impressed by the maturity reflected in their writing, a clear awareness and responsiveness to historical, economic, and political conditions, and the intention to create sustainable ways of life and lifelong formation in community.  In fact, I had met members of InnerCHANGE years before at New Camaldoli Hermitage, again impressed by their intentionality in integrating solitude and contemplative disciplines into their lives. Perhaps the most significant note of appreciation I heard, however, came from my monastic formator, Michael Fish OSB Cam., who gave a talk at one of InnerCHANGE’s recent annual retreats. After the retreat, he spoke excitedly to me of his impression that such emerging communities represent a springtime of renewal in the church. Hence, I had already developed an appreciation and curiosity before meeting InnerCHANGE members on their own turf, first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles. In particular, as a former member of a monastic order, I’ve found InnerCHANGE’s capacity for liberally incorporating the creativity and spontaneity of their members a breath of fresh air, a capacity Catherine Rundle compares to the necessary messiness of the artistic process, equally applicable to life and ministry.

InnerCHANGE from CRM InnerCHANGE on Vimeo.

Catherine Rundle’s story was grafted onto that of InnerCHANGE when an urban mission internship in North Hollywood, California, put her in contact with longtime InnerCHANGE Los Angeles members Jude and John Tiersma-Watson. While this internship (unaffiliated with InnerCHANGE) provided the motivation for a way of life among the poor, she and her husband Alastair still lacked the tools, ongoing mentoring, and enduring context to make that happen in an intensive way beyond the period of the internship itself. Hence, in 1999 Catherine and Alastair joined InnerCHANGE as apprentices, therein finding the guidance, maturity, ongoing formation, and  modeling they sought from those who had walked the path well ahead of them. However, an unexpected medical condition compelled them to move to Texas after three years, where they bore their two children surrounded by the loving embrace of extended family members. Six years after their move, having served as outreach pastors for a Presbyterian church, they discerned the call to return to InnerCHANGE and to Los Angeles specifically, where they continue to live and grow and learn what it means to live out God’s tender heart for the poor.

In our conversation, Catherine and I discuss how she’s been transformed by her relationships with the poor, her initial entry and return to InnerCHANGE, the significance of raising a family as members of a diverse religious order, raising financial support for her life and ministry, and her love for the city of Los Angeles where she’s chosen to set down roots. She speaks of her special passion for imparting a sense of personal dignity and value to others through writing their stories in light of scripture and God’s love for them. Finally, Catherine gives a taste of her practice of prayer and praise walking, of sharing holy attentiveness, blessing, and inspired song as she walks the streets of her Westlake/McArthur Park neighborhood.

To learn more about InnerCHANGE, see John Hayes’ book, Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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My encounter with the Nehemiah House was one of those happy accidents one learns to treasure, and perhaps even rely on, during extended excursions on the road. I was biking down the Southern California coast with a still unformed idea of what I would do or who I would meet once I got to Los Angeles. Significantly, I didn’t know where I would stay. Fortunately, through friends at InnerCHANGE Los Angeles (interview here), I was put in touch with Sarah and Scott Yetter, who graciously offered me a futon in one of the adjoining houses that comprise the Nehemiah House community. Over the course of my time there, I grew to feel affectionately part of this bustling hub of friendship, mentoring, and prayerful presence in the historically troubled, predominantly Latino Pico-Union neighborhood.

The Yetters did not come to the neighborhood with the intention of starting a community. Rather, their journey began when Scott participated in a mission trip during college with Campus Crusade for Christ. During this trip, Scott not only fell in love with the neighborhood, but fell more deeply in love with the Lord and what the Lord was doing among the people he met. This inspired him to pick up and move into the neighborhood in 1997, working first as a high school teacher and then as a pastor for the First Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles. While the intention or hope was that Scott and Sarah would draw local young adults to the church, God seemed to have something else in mind. In short order, Scott found himself flooded with children asking for help with homework, forming relationships with them, while comparatively little came of their outreach to young adults. Quite organically, these relationships with children and their families coalesced into an afterschool program affiliated with the S.A.Y. Yes! organization. Continuing to listen for what God was doing in the neighborhood, and needing physical space for this dynamic network of relationships focused on the afterschool program, Scott and Sarah facilitated the church’s purchase of the Nehemiah House in 2002, which became both their own home and the home of the teen center for S.A.Y. Yes! Pico-Union, Los Angeles.

Today, having purchased an adjoining house in 2009, Scott, Sarah, and their three young children are now joined by two local families who live with them, as well as a handful of interns volunteering with S.A.Y. Yes! and other local ministries for a year or more. Some of these interns, after completing their internship, have themselves chosen to move into the neighborhood also, providing a growing sense of cohesion and relational stability among children, families, mentors, and friends.

In our conversation, Sarah, Scott and I discuss how their faith and concrete relationships led to the forming of Nehemiah house, starting a family in the context of community life, and what they’ve learned living and working with an ever- fluctuating population of young adult interns. Finally, they speak of their hope of seeing today’s young adults shed negative cultural influences, grab hold of the values of discipline and commitment, and fully step into the lives God intends for them—a hope whose realization might be aided by learning from the monastic tradition.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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In this second half of my conversation with Lois Arkin, having introduced the general landscape of ecovillages and the Los Angeles Eco-Village in Part I, we now hone in on lessons she’s learned along the way. Specifically, Lois addresses the issue of structural conflict, reflecting on her own experience in light of the insights of ecovillage and intentional communities author, consultant, workshop leader, and conference presenter, Diana Leafe Christian. The concept of structural conflict points to the fact that, if a community or organization doesn’t adequately address fundamental issues of identity, values, and vision, and how these are to be implemented over time, conflict will most likely ensue, regardless of who’s involved. Given that communities are often founded with an exuberant mixture of idealism and naiveté, drawing on this very practical wisdom from those who have weathered first fervors, successes and failures, can be lifesaving.

In this vein, we spend time talking about membership processes and how these have evolved for the Los Angeles Eco-Village, becoming more narrow and restrictive over time. Earlier, Lois spoke of ecovillages as having porous boundaries, neither closed nor wide-open to the world of which they’re a part. Membership requirements, discernment, formation, education, etc., play an essential role in ensuring that these boundaries, and the integrity of a community’s identity, purpose, and common life, remain healthy. Membership is also an area sure to become highly contentious and problematic for all if these criteria and processes aren’t clear from the beginning.

How does a community clearly impart to new members and communicate to the world its own ethos, while integrating new energies and ideas from without and within? How does this fluid communal organism remain open while retaining its distinctiveness? For a start, through building on solid footing by alleviating structural conflict as soon as possible.

Other resources mentioned in this interview: Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community and Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities by Diana Leafe Christian, and Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making by Tim Hartnett

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Lois Arkin is the founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit CRSP (the Cooperative Resources & Services Project) Institute for Urban Ecovillages. In 1993, she co-founded the Los Angeles Eco-Village as a project of CRSP. Other organizations that she’s co-founded or have grown out of CRSP include the Eco-Home Network, the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust, and the Urban Soil Tierra Urbana Limited Equity Housing Co-op (LEHC). She is co-author and co-editor ofSustainable Cities: Concepts and Strategies for Eco-City Development andCooperative Housing Compendium: Resources for Collaborative Living. In the late 1980s, Lois received an award from the American Planning Association-L.A. Section for Advocacy Planning for, in her own words, “having a big mouth.” She is also a founding member of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and a board member of the Global Village Institute.

In this episode, the first of two with Lois on the subject of ecovillages and the Los Angeles Eco-Village in particular, we explore what constitutes an ecovillage, the history of the ecovillage movement, and Lois’ own experience as an ecovillage founder. From her suburban childhood romping unfettered amid her close-knit neighborhood, to working with troubled youth in inner city Los Angeles in the 1960’s, Lois was passionately drawn to explore the question of how to reinvent urban living to enhance quality of life and address the underlying causes of social ills. This aspiration took a decisive turn in the wake of the L.A. riots in 1992. In light of the glaring, urgent needs this tragedy exposed, a plan to build a demonstration ecological neighborhood on an unpopulated site outside the downtown area was scrapped in favor of revitalizing and retrofitting Lois’ own 2-block Koreatown neighborhood. Beginning January 1st, 1993, Lois and fellow volunteers hit the streets, talking to neighbors, spreading “positive gossip, ” planting trees and garden plots with children, hosting social events, all intended to build a sense of safety and community. Thus were laid the foundations of the Los Angeles Eco-Village.

What inspires me most about Lois’ story and ecovillages generally is their truly integrative approach to re-envisioning how human beings inhabit the planet. Taking into account the social, economic, environmental, and technological dimensions of shared living, ecovillages function as research and development centers, evaluating new possibilities and critically reevaluating processes and practices that the dominant culture takes for granted. In the case of Los Angeles Eco-Village, this includes integrating human-scale, ecological technologies, growing food and running a food cooperative, establishing an affordable housing co-op and community revolving loan fund, implementing inclusive, participatory decision-making and conflict resolution processes, all within the heart of a preexisting urban neighborhood.

Links to other resources mentioned in this interview: Global Ecovillage Network, Ecovillages Newsletter, Los Angeles Eco-Village blog, Los Angeles Ecovillage Wiki.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Church of the Sojourners 25th Anniversary Celebration

Debbie Gish is a founding member of Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco’s Mission District, a community of the Shalom Mission Communities network. She works as an adoption social worker and, with her husband Dale, is parent to two daughters, Annalise and Rebecca.

In our conversation, Debbie and I discuss the emergence of Sojourners as both church and community from a small collective of five young women and three older couples with children engaged in urban ministry in the mid-1980s. Debbie speaks of the community’s search for healthy balance and boundaries in their life and ministry together, which led to the development of a particular self-understanding as church that emphasizes loving one another well as the Body of Christ. This understanding manifests in a form of ministry and hospitality that Debbie describes as functioning primarily as the Inn rather than the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In other words, whereas much emphasis tends to get placed on ministry as going out to those in need, Sojourners’ role looks more like that of the Inn to which the injured are brought to heal. Such people are often integrated into the community, become family, so that the boundary between ministers and those ministered to dissolves. Debbie also shares about her own learning process through 25 years of communal living: from an exuberant honeymoon period, to a deeper realization of community as her way of living out her discipleship to God, the joys of living through the various stages of her life in the close company of others, and a grasp of the necessity of stability and commitment to human flourishing. Finally, since Church of the Sojourners is often identified with the New Monasticism, and Debbie and other members were present when the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism were developed, we spend some time talking about the strengths and challenges in this vital, emerging community movement.

As someone who appreciates contrast, I found going from spending time with Mark Scandrette to staying with Church of the Sojourners particularly illuminating (incidentally, they’re friends and neighbors). In my perception, whereas Mark emphasizes spiritual formation and building community within a highly fluid social environment, Sojourners places great value on stability and mutual commitment in the context of living together for the long haul. Not to exaggerate the contrast, since both overlap in their seeking greater intentionality as Christian disciples through caring, committed relationships. But I was struck by Debbie’s reflections on enduring commitment as the place wherein human beings grow and flourish, a truth our culture has largely forgotten, to the point where it’s difficult to even communicate this wisdom to others. Does our culture need pockets of strong counter-witness, like Sojourners, to excessive autonomy and mobility? I’m inclined to believe, yes, without diminishing the value of forms of community such as Mark’s that can accommodate mobility and flux.

(Tech lesson of the day: avoid recording interviews next to a refrigerator with a high-sensitivity mic in a high-ceilinged, uncarpeted kitchen…)

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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S. Barbara Hazzard, OSB, entered religious life in 1954 with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Oakland, California. In the wake of the ferment following Vatican II, S. Barbara left her first religious community in the early 1970s to embark on a search for a deeper life of prayer both for herself and those to whom she ministered. This period of searching took a decisive turn when she discovered the work of the late Benedictine Fr. John Main in 1982. Visiting John Main’s experimental urban monastery in Montreal shortly thereafter, S. Barbara found a model of contemplative community that resonated with her own aspirations and the needs she perceived in the wider church. Upon her return to Oakland, she formed the Hesed Community along similar lines, as an expression of the Benedictine monastic tradition (Hesed is affiliated with Saint Benedict’s Monastery and Saint John’s Abbey, neighboring Benedictine communities in central Minnesota) committed to the teaching and practice Christian meditation.

John Main, OSB, was a pivotal figure in the revival of the Christian tradition of contemplative prayer in the late 20th century. Similar to the paths of Trappist monks Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating, John Main’s exposure to the spiritual traditions of the Far East compelled him to dig deeper into his own contemplative heritage as a Christian monk.  Rediscovering the teachings on Christian meditation as taught by John Cassian in his Conferences (compiled in the 5th century as a synthesis of the Egyptian desert monastic tradition, foundational to Christian monasticism East and West) and the anonymous author of the 14th century book of instruction in contemplative prayer, The Cloud of Unknowing, John Main developed and taught a practice of Christian meditation accessible to those leading busy lives in the world. Today, his teaching continues to nourish many through the World Community for Christian Meditation.

Hesed Community makes this contemporary expression of the Benedictine contemplative tradition available to those who, in the midst of the frenetic pace and excessive stimulation of urban life, thirst for silence and spiritual depth. In fact, S. Barbara believes that this model of contemplative community in the city represents one prominent path for the future of monasticism, making monastic values more present and available to the world. In this regard, Hesed has developed varied forms of participation and commitment—extended family members, brothers and sisters, and Benedictine Oblates—as well as being open to the public, to accommodate a diverse range of people’s needs. Significantly, as a community, Hesed has remained non-residential, with S. Barbara being the only full-time resident. A unique take on Benedictine living, S. Barbara shares her conviction that, because the community comes together primarily for shared silent prayer, this has led to a depth of intimacy and caring that a more complex, intensive living arrangement might make more difficult, especially for those already raising families and juggling multiple commitments.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Victoria Austin is a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. She has practiced for forty years mostly at San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. She has also taught Iyengar yoga for more than 25 years.

In our conversation, Victoria and I discuss how the Soto Zen tradition Suzuki Roshi transplanted from Japan took root in fresh ways in the United States. In particular, Victoria speaks of an emphasis on everyday life as the field of practice, of lay people moving from a supportive to a creative, participative role, the rise of women leaders, and the development of more communal structures of leadership. We also talk about the emergence of San Francisco Zen Center’s unique constellation of City Center, an urban, residential meditation center; Green Gulch, a rural farm for families and others; and Tassajara, a more traditional monastery in the remote Ventana Wilderness, inland from the Big Sur coast, which opens to guests during the summer months.

Several features of this conversation I find worth highlighting, especially in light of previous interviews. San Francisco Zen Center represents a unique translation of a monastic tradition that exhibits great flexibility, while retaining ancient practice and teaching forms. To my mind, this illustrates a wonderful “middle way” between what I see as the institutional inertia of classic Christian monasticism, and the relative lack of continuity or rootedness among communities identified, for instance, with the fledgling New Monasticism movement.

The integration of lay and ordained, monastic and householder, and the flexible permutations among these categories, along with the fluid variety of practice and lifestyle options the three Centers foster, provide a striking example for  Christians seeking new forms for an emerging “new monasticism.” This model comes very close to the “concentric circles” concept for monastic communities Bruno Barnhart and I began to explore. Furthermore, this model also provides cues to what cultural and institutional support for lay intentionality (an intensity of commitment and participation analogous to that of monastic orders) might look like, which Ivan Kauffman insists Christian churches urgently need to develop.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise (street ambiance provided by local afternoon traffic, corner of Page and Laguna.

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John Schwiebert has served as pastor of the Metanoia Peace Community United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon, since its inception in 1985, and is a founding member of the 18th Avenue Peace House, an intentional community that serves as the central gathering and worship space for the larger community and congregation.  In our conversation, John and I discuss how the community came to adopt the Quaker process of spiritual discernment, or “sense of the meeting,” after the consensus process they learned from their social activism endeavors failed to provide an adequate means of addressing serious differences among community members. We also talk about the community’s present process of discerning the future and living into the next generation as John prepares to step down from his leadership position. Finally, John offers strong words on the degree of commitment necessary for healthy, enduring communities, likening the decision to join a community to that of entering into marriage.

Metanoia Peace Community

The Metanoia Peace Community took its inspiration from the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, particularly the latter’s approach to intensifying and balancing both the inner (contemplative) and outer (sociopolitical) dimensions of Christian discipleship. In appropriating this model of radical discipleship, members of the Metanoia Peace Community commit to practices of resource sharing, common and individual prayer, peacemaking in the home and through acts of civil disobedience, participation in smaller discipleship groups that meet for mutual support and accountability, and, as a “Reconciling Congregation” within the United Methodist Church, welcoming and advocating on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons.  For residents of the 18th Avenue Peace House, these commitments include income sharing and a more intensive sharing of daily life, prayer, and ministry together. In its ministry of hospitality, the Peace House has provided residential hospice care, particularly to persons with AIDS. The Peace House also functions as the hub for Grief Watch, which provides resources, publications, and support through the grieving process, especially for those suffering perinatal loss and the loss of children to murder or suicide.

When I first arrived at the Peace House, it was a bit of a culture shock: from Tacoma Catholic Worker in the midst of the inner city to a beautiful, spacious house in a relatively affluent Portland neighborhood. Nevertheless, in hearing stories (off-tape) about the community’s history—particularly risks taken financially and in their commitments as war tax resisters and peace activists—and the array of ministries that spin from its creative center, I was impressed. I geared my list of questions in the hope of eliciting some of those stories and John’s reflections on their significance, but in the actual interview he responded with quite different material. That’s not a bad thing, but if I was savvier, I would have tried to probe deeper into what he did offer than continue with the questions I’d preselected. For instance, John shared his thoughts on servant-leadership and his own role as leader within the community. But because this left me more confused than enlightened in regard to how his leadership interfaced with the community’s consensus process, I chose to leave that material out. In any case, the two topics that I found most engaging in this conversation were his reflections on commitment and spiritual discernment, the latter being the perfect segue for my next interview, which will focus exclusively on consensus process in community.

Metanoia Peace Community has built a strong foundation with its witness to Christian community and its dynamic ministries, but it’s also clearly a community with an uncertain future. As its original members age and its leader steps aside, it will be particularly interesting to keep an eye on what follows, since this is universally a sensitive pivot point in the life of any community.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise

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