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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

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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Nora with Daughters Bridget and Maggie

Nora Leider has been a resident of the Tacoma Catholic Worker community for the past six years, involved in a variety of the community’s activities, including helping guests transitioning from homelessness to develop strategies toward greater relational and financial independence, advocating for fair, affordable housing and mixed income communities in downtown Tacoma, and managing the community’s organic garden. Continuing on the theme of family in community, Nora and I discuss her journey of becoming wife and mother within the context of discerning and becoming a core community member. She describes the lessons she’s learned along the way in negotiating boundaries and establishing balance between community and family life, and the importance for her of living in a faith community that combines addressing immediate needs with working for systemic change. Nora also shares how the consensus process has led her to a deeper trust and openness toward others’ intentions, perspectives, and insights, and offers an encouraging word for young families discerning a call to life in community.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine

The Tacoma Catholic Worker grew out of a movement of houses of hospitality initiated by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York City in the 1930s. Combining the practice of welcoming the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the marginalized as Christ (Matt. 25:31-46) with a social vision embracing anarchist and pacifist principles, the Catholic Worker movement has since taken on many and varied expressions, with over 180 Catholic Worker communities in the United States at present.

Founded in 1989 with the initial intention of opening their doors to provide emergency shelter for the neighborhood’s homeless, the Tacoma Catholic Worker community soon found itself overwhelmed by the sheer number of slumbering people about the house each night. Reflecting on this experience and recognizing that Tacoma already had facilities for emergency shelter, the community decided that offering transitional housing for those seeking to get off the streets was a more effective, needed service that they could more manageably offer. Many singles, families, and women recently released from prison have all found help and home in the ensuing years.

Today the community is comprised of eight houses, with approximately fifteen permanent members, plus children, alongside temporary guests, residents, and interns.  In addition to transitional housing, Tacoma Catholic Worker hosts weekly open houses including liturgy and a communal meal, shares the yield of their organic garden, offers showers and phone services, and engages in local advocacy on issues that affect the neighborhood’s poor and marginalized residents.  Tacoma Catholic Worker is also a center of activity for Disarm Now Plowshares, organizing nonviolent actions in protest of the nearby Trident submarine base in Bangor, which houses more than 2,000 nuclear warheads, the largest single stockpile in the United States.

What I appreciate about Nora’s reflections is that, while her story may not be as dramatic as that of Craig Greenfield’s—nothing approaching taking small children in tow from Cambodian slums to one of the most destitute neighborhoods in the Western world—she manages to capture in a simple, accessible way the value of community for families and children, and for finding meaningful engagement with the people, the challenges, the hopes, fears, and dreams embodied in an inner city neighborhood. Like Servants Vancouver, the Tacoma Catholic Worker witnesses in a deliberate way to the possibility of breaking down the stratifications—economic, relational, and otherwise—inherent in so much of modern urban culture.  As communities of faith, each witness to the possibility of an intensification of following Christ, especially as he is to be found in one another and in the ‘least’ among us. As a young mother, Nora can insist that this work and witness is enriched by and enriching for children.

For more on the history of the challenge of Catholic Worker communities to accommodate families, see Dan McKanan, “Chapter 6: Inventing the Catholic Worker Family,” in The Catholic Worker after Dorothy: Practicing the Works of Mercy in a New Generation (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2008), 146-180.

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

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Servants Vancouver Community and Friends

Servants Vancouver was founded five years ago when Craig and Nay Greenfield sensed a call to take the model of community and mission they had lived in Cambodian slums and translate it into a Western, inner city context; specifically, downtown eastside Vancouver, an area known to be the poorest in all of Canada, overwhelmed by rampant drug addiction and the highest rate of HIV in the Western world. Here is where they have chosen to plant roots and integrate into the neighborhood, not as mere service providers but as friends, offering a sense of family and welcome to those often deeply scarred by broken, exploitive relationships and suffocating isolation. Furthermore, it is in this place that Craig and Nay have chosen to raise their two young children, Micah and Jayden, a topic Craig and I spend some time talking about in the interview (I think you might be surprised by Craig’s resounding enthusiasm for the advantages of such a way of life for children and families!).

Micah in the Community Garden

As  part of the larger mission organization Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, of which Craig is presently International Coordinator, Servants Vancouver models their life and ministries on the pattern of Jesus’ incarnational descent: “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood,” shedding the privileges of divinity to take upon himself the human condition in all its implications. As the Father sent Jesus, so too does Jesus send his disciples into the world, to be the hands and feet and compassionate heart of God to those most in need. For Servants, this incarnational descent entails an immersion in the day-to-day life patterns, culture, and concerns of the poorest of the world’s urban poor. For Servants Vancouver specifically, this involves opening their home and their table to all manner of neighbors they call friends, offering them help, hope, and belonging though such ministries as “prehab”—providing a place for crack cocaine addicts to detox while they await eligibility for local rehab programs. This incarnational pattern also implies taking to task the political, economic, and social systems in which such people are enmeshed, working for justice through creative activism, as well as transforming two vacant lots into community gardens. While this may sound like a recipe for burnout, Servants Vancouver members are also intent on a regular rhythm of prayer and on valuing celebration, beauty, and rest.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay with the community but participated in an open dinner, toured some of the community’s ministry sites with Craig, and spent an evening with a group of interns. Despite the briefness of my exposure, I was deeply touched by their witness of neighborly friendship and welcome. Craig contrasts this incarnational approach to what he calls the patron-client model of the multitude of charitable organizations that pervade the area. This contrast struck home for me when, after enjoying a meal of grilled, donated hamburgers, salad, and veggies (according to Craig, approximately 75% of their food is donated, mostly overflow from charity organizations), I took out the compost to the alleyway behind the house. There, I saw an extraordinarily long line of mostly men in front a soup kitchen, shuffling in, shuffling out for a free meal but with no apparent, substantial relationship to those who feed them. In the meantime, I had just enjoyed a relaxed, family-style cookout with a highly diverse group of people and witnessed the real investment each takes in the others’ lives—a wonderful example of the healing power of neighborly care.

You can learn more about Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor on their website, as well as though an inspiring anthology of personal stories, The Sound of Worlds Colliding

Special thanks as well to Michael, Lisi, Travis, Leslee, Sara, and Ben of the Beehive House for their gracious hospitality in hosting me and for making my time in Vancouver all the more enjoyable.

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

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