Friday, April 1, 2011

Intentionally Communing

Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but of those who are trying to become saints. Therefore let us be extremely patient with each others' faults and failures.
-          -Mother Teresa

The story of how I came to live in community is a little convoluted. I did not intend on living on the Near South Side of Chicago, an hour’s commute via public transportation to the office of Interfaith Worker Justice. In early August of 2010 I had thought that I would live in an intentional community made up of mostly seminarians in the Far North neighborhood of Rogers Park, but I learned, quite accidentally, that the community was exclusively for seminarians. And someone forgot to tell me. Oops. That set me off on a panicked effort to live at another intentional community also on the North Side. Through the generous help of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, I spent the last weekend of August in Chicago hoping that I would be accepted by the residents of that community. I learned in the parking lot of Baltimore-Washington International Airport that they hadn’t accepted me. 

That was 6 days before I was to move to Chicago from central Pennsylvania. Oh dear.

Luckily, the office assistant of the IWJ office had also done a Google search for “Christian intentional communities” in Chicago. That was how I got into contact with First Trinity in the near-south neighborhood of Bridgeport. I had visited First Trinity during my short weekend stay in late August, but I had figured that it was too far away from the office. Suddenly, I had little choice but to live there...or live with the family of a second cousin of my father whom I had never met.
First Trinity it was.
I moved into the second-floor apartment of the community center across from the old Lutheran church over Labor Day weekend after a 12-hour car drive via the Pennsylvania Turnpike and flatland-crossing interstates of the Midwest. My room was threadbare. The walls were decorated with blue-and-gray streaks and aquatic plant scenes. The paint was chipping. I slept on a roll-away bed mattress for about two weeks until I brought home the mattress left by my US-2 missionary predecessor.

But the folks there! They were such an odd assortment of folks. Bohemian artists and musicians, immigrant students and workers, and a few guys who had lived there since the late 1970’s. On Labor Day we had a big barbecue where we ate hamburgers around a big table and then played Uno. I felt pretty accepted pretty fast.
But I also learned that community is a difficult thing to perpetuate without any structures or organized effort. One roommate left three months after my arrival; he and his girlfriend needed more space than the little apartment could provide. True story. Shortly after Christmas another roommate left for a construction project at O’Hare, and though all his things remained at Trinity, I have seen him maybe twice since the beginning of the year. Three more “roommates” who lived in the old parsonage across the driveway also left by the end of February. The musician who shared a wall with me was the next to leave in mid-March, and it is likely that one more roommate will leave by the end of May. 

We call that “transistioning”.

With the absence of folks with whom I had only begun to develop relationships and the appearance of new folks with whom I had no relationship, I finally got proactive in my community-building. One of the newbies had lived in an honest-to-God coop for a few years, and so we worked together to make a proto-coop out of our mismatching neighbors. We sent out e-mails and knocked on doors, and then repeated it. Last Sunday we finally had our first Trinity Community meeting where 10 of the 13 current residents showed up. 


We have a long way to go before we function as an actual community and instead of just people who live in the same space. Because the community consists of two buildings, we have to organize separate meetings to go over things like cleaning common spaces (bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms), provision of communal resources (toilet paper, sponges, pots & pans, etc.), and respecting each other’s different schedules (no violin after 11 pm, please). In lieu of active and organized residents, the church board of trustees and deacons had been interviewing and admitting new residents. It is my neighbors’ and my hope that soon we will at the very least have a stronger voice in that process. And lastly, maybe we’ll actually, you know, like, hang out together every once and while?

Community is a hard thing to practice in general, and it is even harder when the community is as diverse as the one at First Trinity. We are co-ed, represent four different nations of birth (and thus four different native languages), are between 20 and 65 years old (though mostly under 30), and have jobs ranging from full-time student to missionary to software engineer.  Deciding issues through consensus will be fun.

But I don’t think that the beauty of community can be captured by demographics. It comes to light in short narratives. Stories like helping a love-struck roommate make an unplanned trip to Phoenix. Stories like sharing impromptu birthday cake on a Wednesday night. Or everyone singing along with music from a laptop as the night drags on. While community takes some very intentional organizing and planning, community also just…plain…happens.

While I was in college, my closest friends and I had been struck by the account of the community of believers from the book of Acts. Our community at Bucknell didn’t look like that, and Trinity Community won’t look like that either. Maybe that’s because every community looks different, and that’s cool. But what remains constant is the sharing of resources, of space, and of life.

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else right now.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Joe, I really enjoyed this article. (And the one below on truth, but it made head hurt thinking again like a seminarian). I especially loved the conclusion about trying to re-create any community. Each must live and breathe into its own being. And we (the church) do tend to idealize stuff from early church. Which is why I love 2 realities from the early book of Acts. How quickly a dispute arose in community: "because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food." (Acts 6:1) The other is someone falling asleep on Paul's preaching which makes one realize we can't be dynamic in preaching all the time.
    Anyway, communal living even with Christians takes lots of work, prayer, and consideration of others. (Same can be said of any family life. What remians constant is the sharing of resources, space and life.)