After two years at Saint Hilda’s House I am starting to do things for the last time. This past Sunday was the last Compline of the year, and no matter how many times I come back to New Haven in the future, this was my last Compline as a Hildan. I was able to do something I had not so secretly wanted to do for a long time; I lay down in the choir and became completely enshrouded in the darkness, smells and sounds of the service. In the coming weeks, I’ll do several more ventures for the last time, saying goodbye to friends, moving out of the rectory, and attending a service at Christ Church for the last time as a Hildan.Read More
Filtering by Tag: What is Community?
I've spent more time at St. Hilda's now than I spent at Oxford as an undergraduate- and if you total up the actual days spent on location, maybe more time than I spent at Oxford over the whole four years. This amount of time will provoke change, no matter what. I hope talking about that change might be helpful for the reader, whether you're interested in living in community yourself, generally interested in different forms of religious life, or just interested in what's happened to me over the past few years.Read More
By Jordan Trumble (Check out her website here: http://jordantrumble.come)
I’ve always had a hard time backing down from a challenge. I joined competitive swimming in high school because my older brother told me I would never survive. I wound up sporting a t-shirt for my least favorite college football team during the most recent national championship because I accepted and subsequently lost a silly bet. And I came to Saint Hilda’s because I was warned that it would be very, very difficult.
I arrived at Saint Hilda’s one year after graduating from college. I’d spent the intervening year working in an HIV clinic in Los Angeles, a heart-breaking experience that left me feeling as though my faith was utterly shattered. As I looked forward to what was next, I realized that I needed time and space to think, pray, and discern. I needed to surround myself with people who would challenge me and support me. I needed to be in a community that could help me sort out my faith.
When I arrived in New Haven in the fall of 2010, I didn’t really know what was ahead of me. I knew that I would be expected to attend Morning Prayer each day, work 30 hours each week, and participate in Friday formation activities with my housemates. I expected that living with strangers would be difficult, that I would sometimes not feel like getting up for chapel, and that my job would test me. All of these things turned out to be true. But although it was hard work, spiritually and emotionally, it was difficult in the best possible ways.
Although living with a group of twentysomethings wasn’t easy, and often led me to joke with friends that I was on the Episcopal version of The Real World, I also began to build deep relationships with those in my house and enjoyed the nights we cooked for one another and lingered around the table sharing stories from our days and telling jokes.
Waking up early for Morning Prayer each day was difficult for my sleep schedule, but the order and structure it brought to my days and weeks slowly began to deeply influence my spiritual life. The Psalms and canticles I prayed each morning became meditation pieces that accompanied me throughout my day and now, several years later, I still have them memorized and meditate on them often.
Working in social service amongst the poorest of the poor in New Haven was disheartening, but my work at a soup kitchen and in a food pantry helped me to realize my own privilege whilst also teaching me how I could help improve the lives of those around me.
Reading theological texts from throughout Christian history meant that I spent many evenings feeling like I was in school again as I parsed out arguments about Eucharistic theology or social justice, but also opened my mind to new ways of thinking about God and the world around me.
As difficult as all of these things were, however, somehow the combination of them never seemed to bog down my heart and mind. Instead they opened up new spaces for me to look and listen for how God was calling me.
In my early days at Saint Hilda’s House, the program director at the time, Robert Hendrickson, used to quote early 20th Century Bishop Frank Weston who once said, “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.”
The idea of the Jesus I encountered in the Eucharist being deeply tied to the faces I served each day in the marginalized people of New Haven began to shape the way I viewed my work and ministry. I realized that, while my work before Saint Hilda’s House was serving God, I didn’t know how to articulate why it was important and how I saw it connected to my faith. Yet my time at Saint Hilda’s House helped me to better understand why what I did outside of the walls of the church building mattered. I realized that if God cared enough about us to send Jesus to us in the form of flesh and bone and to reveal God’s glory through the Incarnation, and then to come to us again and again in the Eucharist, then the very bodies of each of us, including the people I was serving, could also serve to reveal and testify to God’s glory. Yes, I found God in church on Sunday mornings. But I also found God in the faces of the people coming to my work sites for food and in the faces of the volunteers working tirelessly to ensure that no one would go hungry.
Now, nearly three years after finishing my time at Saint Hilda’s, I’m glad that I no longer live in a house filled with twentysomethings, and I don’t really miss weekly house meetings, chore charts, and communal grocery budgets. But the hard work of living in community and working amongst the marginalized in the city of New Haven left an indelible mark on my life. I am reminded of this lesson each time I take the Eucharist and each time I go back and volunteer at my former work sites: that every moment of my life must point to the glory of the God whose Incarnation feeds us, body and soul, both in the tabernacle and in the slums.
While I often detest generalizations which lump all 20-30 years olds into one monolithic group (usually called “millennials”), I’ve noticed something generally true about many of my peers: we crave connection. Although various forms of social media exist quite literally at our fingertips, we find ourselves increasingly disconnected: from one another, from God, and even from our own selves. The almost overwhelming popularity of social media is a response to the perceived need to stay connected to one another at all times.
To tell you the truth, social media does surprisingly well at allowing us to feel connected to one another. For example, just this evening I’ve emailed, texted, and Facebook chatted people in New Haven, Connecticut; Tulsa, Oklahoma; West Park, New York; and Montevideo, Minnesota–not to mention the countless people from a wide variety of places with whom I’ve engaged on Tumbr and Twitter. While I’ve love to be physically present with and to my friends in New Haven, Tulsa, West Park, and Montevideo, that’s not a reality at the moment. Social media allows me to stay connected–albeit in an imperfect way–with the people whom I hold dear.
You’re perhaps asking yourself, “What–if anything–does this have to do with community?” This: that community, not social media, is uniquely situated to more wholly fulfill our need for deep and abiding connection with those whom we hold truly dear.
Life in community is about so much more than simply sharing a house. Life in community is about reconciliation, vulnerability, and transformation, for those are the very stuff of church. When we live together–intentionally, committedly–we create a microcosm of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are diverse and unique, each person bringing with her a complicated blend of calling, baggage, guilt, intention, desire, and vision.
This is my third year living in some type of intentional community. Each community in which I’ve lived has looked vastly different, but each has allowed me to connect on a wonderfully deeper level with other people, with God, and with myself. Each community came together at the beginning with as many visions and expectations as there were community members. Through the course of the year or so, the various formulations of community were shaped and sifted, shifted and honed into something truly remarkable.
Don’t get me wrong. Living in community is at times remarkably horrible. Community, while creating the sacred space necessary to be about the business of the Church (reconciliation, vulnerability, transformation), it also allows unhealthy attitudes, behaviors, and practices the space to flourish. Because of–not in spite of!–these unhealthy (and even dangerous) situations, the community is pressed closer together, forced in many ways to either address head on or completely avoid the cause of discord.
In her autobiography The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day writes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Although she predated Facebook and Tumblr by decades, Dorothy understood the need for connectedness, which I think is a pretty universal need throughout history (although different generations might utilize different words and expressions to describe the same sentiment). Her answer was not Twitter or Pinterest or texting, although I imagine she would have been somewhat engaged with those media (the Catholic Worker, of course, mastered the medium of print.) Instead, Dorothy found balm and succor–indeed, light and love–only in the context of community.
Like Dorothy, I use social media to stay connected with a wide and diverse set of people. Also, like Dorothy, I realize that the most whole, truest sort of relationships are best found in the context of community–where the imperfect, the broken, the vulnerable, the transforming, and the reconciling are greeted, welcomed, and cherished.
What is intentional community? This is one of the first questions we ask at the start of a year in St. Hilda's. It's also one that we tend to find ourselves asking halfway through the year, and then again when we leave.
The one constant I've noticed about this question over the course of my time here, apart from the fact that it is constantly being asked, is that no answer seems to quite capture what it is asking for. It strikes me that this is not due to a failure on the part of those who have lived in community, however, but because it's not a question to which a definite answer can be given. Instead it's a dynamic question, one which has to be asked again and again in a variety of different contexts, each of which will offer up its own account of what an intentional community might look like.
All of which makes the business of saying what intentional community is somewhat difficult: for though there are lots of ways of living in intentional community, there does not appear to be any one such way which answers once and for all what intentional community is.
When we ask this question, then, we must be clear about what we're asking. Are we asking for a definition of intentional community, one which if met will ensure that intentional community will manifest itself? Or are we asking about the various ways in which an intentional community can be? If it is the former, then I would guess that we're unlikely to find an answer which will help us much with the actual business of living in community. This is because it seems to me that any community we live in will likely not satisfy that definition.
If it's the latter, however, then we may be well placed to appreciate the many and various answers which, though they do not give a definition of intentional community when taken together, each offer up some insight into community living. We might even be able to look at how these various answers relate to each other in unexpected ways, and observe the results of bringing disparate and different responses to the question 'what is intentional community' into dialogue with each other.
Which brings me to the aspect of intentional community that I wanted to focus on when I started writing this piece: specifically, that it seems me to be a feature of intentional community that when people decide to live together in this way the result is rarely definitive (and never, I imagine, ideal). Instead, intentional community seems to be manifested in the bizarre and unexpected ways in which different individuals can bring out both the best and the worst in each other; in the ways in which living with others can draw out facets of character that had hitherto gone unknown; in the ways in which being faced with an entirely different point of view can reveal that you yourself are a very different person to the one you thought you were.
These differences can range from the seemingly superficial to the absolutely fundamental (and it's not always clear which is which!). For example, two people can differ wildly as to what constitutes a clean room. They can also differ as to what constitutes living prayerfully, treating others lovingly, and, of course, what constitutes living in community. Though such differences can always cause tension, it is also through these differences engaging with each other that communities are formed: for it is by engaging with each other as others, fully aware of all the difference that this entails, that we begin to manifest what it can be to exist in unity with diversity. Above all, it is by living in unity with others that we begin to appreciate what it means for us to love our neighbours: neighbours who might not always do the dishes/expect the dishes to be done too often, or who take community expectations far too seriously/not seriously enough, but who are still the very neighbours that we are constantly commanded to love.
Rather helpfully, this is all indicated by an innocuous aspect of the word 'community' itself. For in terms of basic etymology, 'community' literally means 'unity with'; and this 'with' implies the presence of something other than myself in this unity: it implies difference. And this suggests that community is not merely the result of reducing many individuals to the same, nor even a unity in spite of difference: rather, it is a unity premised upon diversity. It thus goes hand in hand with the recognition that we exist in context, such that we must often come to learn who we are in the context of the lives of others, rather than expecting those others with whom we live to conform to us.
Just as there is no definitive answer to the question 'what is intentional community?' then, but rather many different answers, each of which inspires different insights, so a community itself is not necessarily constituted by a definite identity shared by all, but by the unique results which arise from individuals sharing in each others' lives. This is not to say that an initial sense of identity cannot be helpful, nor that there are not some things which communities should seek to avoid. It is just to say that what an intentional community is is rarely a question which can be given a definite and all encompassing answer. Instead, a given intentional community just is the unpredictable result of the weird and wonderful relationships which develop when a group of different people come together with the intention of trying to love and learn from each other.