I arrived in New Haven in 2012 to begin a year of service with Saint Hilda's House. The orientation week was essential to the success of that year: because it set us on the right track, we we able to grow as a community, to such an extent that seven of the eleven of us stayed on for a second year as The Red House. Indeed, it is precisely because that orientation week was so successful that, two years after first walking bleary eyed and jet-lagged into the Christ Church Parish Hall, I arrived back at the end of August to enter into a third year of living in intentional community, and so began another orientation week with a new group of people.
It is fascinating to compare the two experiences, and I thought it worth writing about a few of the things which struck me most. First off was the experience of meeting again with Brother Scott, a brother up at Holy Cross monastery, and so a man who knows an awful lot about living in community. As Will said (for he is now entering his second year at St. Hilda's), it was amazing hearing his words anew after having actually lived in community for a while. Whereas before his repeated refrains that community doesn't just happen and that there will of necessity be both potentially generative and potentially destructive conflict along the way had sounded serious, this time they felt real. I was able to cast my mind back over the many times when living in community had indeed lead to various sorts of conflict, how we had approached those conflicts, and what we had learned from them. The upshot was a reaffirmation of the dual convictions that love does not preclude conflict, nor conflict love. Overall, I am just as grateful for Brother Scott's time and wisdom as I was two years earlier, if not more-so.
The second thing that struck me was how exciting it was to go through this whole experience with a new group of people. Now, it is true that I already knew John and Will from their time at St. Hilda's last year, and that I knew Kalayke from the Yale Divinity School community. No matter how well you know someone, however, it is always a new thing to live in community with them (as I'm sure many couples can attest to!): you come to know people in a different way, both individually and as part of the community itself. It is also true that I miss my old house mates fiercely (this was especially true as I was moving back into the Rectory). All this said, I cannot overstate how privileged I felt to be able to do something as simple as eat pizza at Bar with this new community, let alone lay the groundwork for the year ahead.
The final thing I think worth noting is both how similar and how different this community is to the others I have known. We have all come looking for something: this fact of seeking has remained as constant throughout my time here as the fact of the diversity of things sought. Not all of us know what we are looking for, not all of know what we hope for: but I we have all come together in the belief that living and serving together will open up the space for this seeking. There also seems to be, from the off, the same deep commitment on everyone's part both to each other individually and to the community as a whole. As before, this commitment is manifesting itself in as many different ways as there are different people, and as before I don't doubt it will be tested. As before, however, I believe that it is a commitment which will thrive off this diversity and this challenge, just as it has done in the past. Indeed, I think it is a commitment which can only make sense of this diversity and in the face of this challenge.
For my part, I am looking forward to the year. My greatest personal fear is that I will perhaps be too aloof, feeling that because this is my third year I already know all there is to be known. My hope, therefore, is that I am able to learn a humility deep enough to counteract this, to help me remember that I am here to learn, not to pontificate. It is also going to be a busy year: I'm going to be applying for graduate programmes in Philosophical Theology (as well as these things called salaried jobs...), continuing to work in graduate support at St. Martin's, and performing the role of Social Media Missioner for St. Hilda's itself, all the while trying to make sure that I devote enough time to all the people who have made and continue to make my life in New Haven such a joy. The fact that I got had chance to go through another orientation week, however, and that I was able to do so with the wonderful people I'm going to be living and serving with this year, makes me pretty sure that it's going to be yet another good year.