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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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From childhood, Mark Scandrette was taught a highly intentional form of putting the teachings of Jesus into practice in everyday life. In the ensuing years this practical intentionality has grown into a lifelong habit of sensitive discernment and active response to Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom, in dialog with the personal, social, and global realities of our time and place.  Mark now shares this practical wisdom as founding director of ReIMAGINE!, a collective that engages people in integrative spiritual experiments and practices. He is the author of  Soul Graffiti and Practicing the Way of Jesus , and contributing author to Community of Kindness , The Relevant Church, and Emergent Manifesto of Hope. He lives in San Francisco’s Mission District with his wife Lisa and their three teenage children (read Mark’s full bio here).

In my experience, spiritual formation has tended to be a rather introspective and private affair, centered on meeting regularly with a spiritual director, discerning God’s presence and action, and making decisions based on this shared reflection. And even though this often occurred within a community, it was not a deliberately communal process as such, nor did it necessarily draw concrete connections between spiritual development and local/global social, economic, and political concerns. Hence, I was attracted to Mark’s work because of his ability to integrate personal transformation with community building and social action. He does this through shared experiments he calls “learning labs,” which may involve such practices as activism aimed at ending human trafficking, applying Jesus’ teachings on money and possessions to personal and group finances, addressing addictive and compulsive behaviors, or sharing silence and contemplative prayer. From these experiments in faith emerge small communities or “tribes,” who make vows together annually, continuing to love, support, challenge, and hold one another accountable through successive experiments aimed at living ever more fully into the Kingdom of Love Jesus proclaimed.

One aspect that makes this model of community unique is its plasticity. According to Mark, about one third of his tribe move away each year, as other members join, which is only slightly higher than the degree of transiency in San Francisco generally (every year, approximately 20% of the population leaves). Amidst this high mobility, a core group remains, while those who depart may form similar communities where they land. Furthermore, because members of the community engage in an ongoing process of shared action and reflection, this allows for a flexibility that can discern best practices that endure over time, while providing a framework for addressing new challenges as they arise (as an example of the latter, we talk about online social media, the pervasiveness of which  could not have been anticipated 8 years ago, yet has now become a central and even consuming part of many people’s lives in a very short time).

Among other topics, Mark and I discuss spiritual formation in this context of an often dizzying mobility and social fragmentation (of which San Francisco is but a highly condensed microcosm). Against this backdrop, Mark shares his perception of a new consciousness rising, a longing for wholeness in ourselves, our relationships, our communities, and our world. In Mark’s view, this new consciousness has profoundly impacted young Christians, who today tend to be more concerned with issues of justice, community, ecology, and creativity—of a whole way of life—than traditional roles of priest, pastor, or missionary. As emerging communities seek to embody this new consciousness, integrating body, mind, and spirit and the personal, social, economic, and political dimensions of life, traditional models of formation may not be completely adequate. “Learning labs” that give rise to, shape, and sustain community offer one possible, complimentary approach of ongoing engagement in the cycle of action and reflection, catalyzed by a steady gaze upon Jesus’ vision of Kingdom of Love.

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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For the last 30 years, Phil McManus has been actively engaged in promoting peace, justice and active nonviolence in Latin America and in U.S.-Latin America relations, working with a number of different organizations, including the interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation. He is the Latin America Program Officer for the Appleton Foundation, and with Gerald Schlabach, co-editor of Relentless Persistence: Nonviolent Action in Latin America (available from Wipf and Stock Publishers). He is an Oblate of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, and a member of the Redwood Nonviolence Community, an intentional community based in Santa Cruz, CA.

In our conversation, Philip and I discuss his experiences in Latin America working for nonviolent social change in the context of often brutal repression and injustice. In particular, we discuss the widespread phenomenon of Christian base communities, which continue today but flourished especially for several decades after Vatican II (1962-65). Prompted by Vatican II’s emphasis on the church as servant to the poor, sensitive to reading the ‘signs of the times’ as the lens through which the gospel message is received and acted upon, the Conference of Latin American Bishops met in 1968 in Medellín, Colombia, to discern what this entailed for Latin America. Taking serious stock of the Latin American social, economic, and political landscape, the Conference took the unprecedented step of urging a ‘preferential option for the poor’ for their churches, posing a strong challenge to 500 years of the Catholic Church’s virtual collusion with the economic and political elite of the region. Amid this ferment, Christian base communities arose in astounding numbers, comprised of mostly poor, disenfranchised people who read, studied, and acted upon scripture from the reality of their own experience, perceptions, needs, and challenges.

Philip speaks of how his own Christian faith has been nourished and transformed as he encountered fresh, challenging readings of scripture from the “base”; that is, from within the collective struggles of those at the bottom of the social pyramid striving to realize the reign of love Jesus taught and inaugurated. This form of reading and responding to scripture challenges North American prerogatives in at least four ways: first, social conditions illuminate the meaning of scripture and vice versa, which is to say that the truths of scripture do not float above history but rather dynamically address our common needs and concerns today, and what God intends therein; secondly, the reading of scripture is a communal rather than individual undertaking; third, the poor and marginalized, as the victims of social systems that glorify wealth, power, and prestige, occupy a privileged position from which to understand Jesus’ message; and fourth, the gospel cannot be understood apart from action—through a cycle of action and reflection, the community interiorizes and actualizes the gospel message as an ongoing transformative process. These basic tenets pose a stark contrast to the common tendency to privatize the gospel message as primarily concerned with individual salvation, independent of social, economic, and political realities.

I was eager to include Philip’s thoughts here because of his ability to communicate, from a particular perspective, a theme I encounter over and over again. From Parish Collective’s insistence upon doing theology in the context of rootedness in one’s neighborhood, to New Monasticism’s provocative first mark (“relocation to the abandoned places of Empire”), to Servants Vancouver’s incarnational approach to mission, each share the insight that context and community matter. The concrete needs of our neighbors lay claim on us as disciples of Jesus Christ, and this requires some understanding of the social, economic, and political systems in which we’re embedded. From a Catholic perspective, this “method” was profoundly enfleshed amid the liberation movements of Latin America during the time period alluded to above.

For many of us Christians in North America, formed in a fragmented culture, habituated to an illusion of self-sufficiency, taught a gospel of individual and more often than not unearthly salvation, the habits of communal living don’t necessarily come easily. Hence, lessons gleaned from people on the margins, who are inescapably sensitive to their dependence on God and one another, can be indispensable to our own growth in community.

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

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Bruno Barnhart is a Camaldolese-Benedictine monk of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, and was one of my primary teachers during my own monastic formation. He is the author of The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center, Second Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity, The Future of Wisdom: Toward a Rebirth of Sapiential Christianity, and co-editor of Purity of Heart and Contemplation: A Monastic Dialogue Between Christian and Asian Traditions.

What might happen if a monastery, whose Oblates (nonresident lay associate members) outnumber the monks within by a 50 to 1 ratio, embarked upon an experiment in renewal that altered the very form and function of what conventionally comprises a monastic community?

This interview is actually the tail end of a much longer conversation, wherein we had discussed such topics as wisdom, evolution, poetry, and especially the exhilarating, irrepressible, revolutionary impulse at the heart of Christianity. Our primary guides were the restless, Christ-possessed, future-oriented Apostle Paul, and the 20th century Jesuit scientist, theologian, and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, especially in their understanding of the Cosmic Christ. Also relevant to the interview, we spoke of literary figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and his distinction between the Party of Memory and the Party of Hope (applied by Emerson particularly to political parties but ultimately seen as forces in tension underlying all human affairs) and Owen Barfield’s notion that the Christ event fundamentally shifted the trajectory of human history from a position of receptivity and learning to one of creativity or co-creativity with God. What emerges is a hope-filled vision of a divinely-charged human creativity flowing from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, with a preference for the innovative and experimental.

At the point at which this interview actually begins, I bring the conversation down to earth by asking, in essence: what does this have to do with monasticism? That is, how would this dynamic, creative, future-oriented perspective change a monastic culture that tends to focus its energies on conserving and recapitulating the past? From there, we begin to sketch what such a new monasticism might look like in the present day; the role existing monasteries would play in this transformation; and how this might actually take shape in a monastery like Bruno’s own. Since New Camaldoli Hermitage’s situation—of a flourishing life outside the cloister, yet seeming diminishing life within—is by no means unique, the ideas expressed here have a potentially broad applicability for a new monasticism and new monasteries.

(For a critical response to this interview, see Paula Huston)

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

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Cyprian Consiglio is a Camaldolese monk, musician, and teacher, as well as a personal friend and confrere. After ten years at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, he has lived for nine years near Santa Cruz, CA, where he divides his time between solitude and extensive travel, performing and teaching around the world. He has been deeply involved in inter-religious dialogue for many years and is the author of Prayer in the Cave of the Heart: The Universal Call to Contemplation.

In our conversation, Cyprian distinguishes between what he sees as two forms of monasticism in the West: the familiar, institutionalized model and one arising from a more spontaneous, flexible contemplative impulse, manifesting across religious traditions in a variety of emergent forms. In this light, Cyprian discusses the sources that have inspired him in his own journey, from living as a monk in community to the less predetermined path of “hermit, preacher, and wanderer,” or Christian sannyasi, in the spirit of inter-religious pioneers Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux, OSB) and Bede Griffiths, OSB Cam.

In a significant contrast to Mary Ewing Stamps, who in an earlier interview identified the non-negotiables of monasticism as a leader, a rule, and a stable place (which is about as succinct a definition of the first form of [Benedictine] monasticism as you’ll likely find), Cyprian goes to the heart of the matter in identifying the primacy of the interior life and contemplative practice as the fundamental, nonnegotiable elements of monasticism, which in turn imbue the whole of a monk’s life and activity. With this more flexible definition in mind, Cyprian and I explore various forms of monastic community and itinerancy East and West, how to maintain a disciplined contemplative life on the move and without direct community support, and the critical necessity of daily practice, rootedness in tradition, and spiritual direction for the monk in the world.

While the distinction shouldn’t be drawn too starkly, I find Cyprian’s understanding of two forms of monasticism helpful and refreshing. Having myself been trained in the Camaldolese tradition, I tend to identify with a middle-ground, wherein the monastic institution meets, and ideally fosters, the kind of adaptability, spontaneity, and freedom of the second form. Hence, like Cyprian, I’ve also taken inspiration from the more flexible ascetical traditions of the Far East and the kinds of monastic or “lay monastic” communities they’ve established in the West (Cyprian speaks particularly of Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery (see interview here) and Mount Madonna Yoga Center, of which I have visited only the former). As Cyprian affirms, this is not to say that one form is better than the other, but it does help to clarify important differences in, say, vocational dispositions.

Incidentally, this is the same Cyprian who performs the music I use in the podcast…

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

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Lysbeth Borie of the Alpha Institute has been involved in consensus decision making for over thirty years, including 10 years of daily practice at the Alpha Farm community in Deadwood, Oregon, and has worked as a consensus trainer, both privately and in partnership with her mentor Caroline Estes, since 1988. In our conversation, among other aspects of consensus process, Lysbeth and I explore how consensus process done well enriches the culture of communities, fostering growth, intimacy, and clarity of discernment; how it functions best when approached as a personal and collective transformational practice; the elements that go into healthy consensus process; and the role of consensus in the organic stages of group development.

While this is one of my longer interviews, I believe it’s well worth your time if this topic holds interest for you. What I most appreciate about Lysbeth’s reflections is the sense of consensus process as able to integrate the material, personal, social, and spiritual concerns of a community and use them as the raw material for mutual growth on all of these levels. This raises further questions that might be worth exploring more in depth at a later time. For instance, underlying this process is a worldview relying on a systems or ecological perspective that emphasizes the interrelationship and interdependence of those within the system, as opposed to a hierarchical worldview that implies the necessity for a clear chain of command. This contrast in worldviews in turn affects how we conceive of God and God’s action in the world, determines the forms of institutions that we develop, and the pattern of relations with one another and the planet.

Interestingly, the Rule of Benedict, while tending strongly toward the hierarchical (with the embodiment of Christ’s authority centralized in the person of the abbot), does not neglect the horizontal, or “that of God in all people.” For instance, as outlined in the third chapter of the Rule, the abbot should consult the whole of the community before making important decisions because “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” While the brothers in this instance play only a consultative role, there is nonetheless an acknowledgement that no one person, not even the abbot, can presume to have access to the whole truth but must patiently listen for God potentially speaking through each and all.

For me, this raises the further question of whether consensus process can adequately account for differences in levels of maturity and the appropriation of the ‘charism’ or calling of a community. Especially in a monastery or neo-monastic community, where the intent is to form its members according to the wisdom of a centuries-old tradition, there would seem to be a need to integrate both hierarchical and egalitarian approaches, though this ought to look different in our day than it did in Benedict’s sixth century context.

Much food for thought.

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

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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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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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In our conversation, Mary and I discuss the converging stories of her own journey into Benedictine monasticism and the United Methodist Church’s efforts to reclaim the monastic tradition. Along the way, Mary shares the challenges of living into a monastic vocation that has no clear, prior established map, learning to trust the Spirit in the process, the unique form of her non-residential ecumenical monastic community, her insights into the non-negotiables of monasticism, and the fruitfulness of ecumenical dialog in the evolution of new forms of monastic life. You can learn more about Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery here. Also be sure to visit Mary’s blog on the Benedictine life.

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

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Sister Mary Forman, OSB, is a member of the Monastery of Saint Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho. She is the editor of One Heart, One Soul, Many Communities and the author of Praying with the Desert Mothers, as well as numerous articles on Benedictine spirituality. Currently, Sister Mary teaches undergraduate theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, and monastic studies and spirituality at Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota.

In our conversation, Sister Mary and I discuss how the monastic tradition undergoes fluctuating periods of diversity and standardization, and some of the factors that make the present time a unique moment of growing diversity, both within and beyond monastery walls. In particular, we talk about the significance of conversations and relationships forming across denominational lines, including mutually enriching encounters between traditional monasteries and emerging forms of lay community.

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

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Emerging Communities • Ancient Roots’ first podcast episode! I talk with Ivan Kauffman about the New Monasticism: a Christian ecumenical movement with roots in evangelicalism, of intentional communities most often located in impoverished inner city neighborhoods, with a strongly articulated social justice orientation and an aspiration to learn from and appropriate elements of the classical monastic tradition.

Ivan is a self-identified Mennonite Catholic, a participant in the Mennonite-Catholic dialog group Bridgefolk,  and a lay associate of Saint John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Presently, Ivan is a scholar-in-residence at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. His research focuses on the interface of religion and politics in history, with an emphasis on peace and nonviolence, and the many ways Christians have come together through the centuries to build communal lives of radical discipleship.  Ivan is the author of Follow Me: A History of Christian Intentionality, which was written to provide a historical framework for understanding the New Monasticism movement.

In our conversation, we discuss Ivan’s experience attending the June 2004 New Monasticism gathering, wherein the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism were discerned as articulations of shared values and practices. We also discuss the strengths, gifts, and challenges facing New Monastic and other lay intentional community movements, the New Monasticism’s relationship to the classical monastic tradition, and finally, Ivan’s wide-angle view of the historical context in which the New Monasticism is taking shape—what he calls “the view from 40,000 feet.”

It might be helpful to have the 12 Marks at hand while listening to the podcast:

12 Marks of New Monasticism

1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3. Hospitality to the stranger

4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

Enjoy, and please share your comments. I especially appreciate hearing what questions arise for you, so that I might integrate them into future interviews.

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

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