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.
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