Making community intentional

May 9, 2012 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Special to Young Voices

The six young adults who live in the three-storey house at the end of Alloway Avenue know each other well by now. They speak with each other openly, respond to each other thoughtfully, laugh easily and each one knows how the other five take their tea. All six want to grow closer to God, and they believe a good way to do that is by living together.

“This living situation has the potential to equip myself and others to make more faithful decisions and to live more faithful lives,” says Mark Tiessen-Dyck.

He and his wife Melissa Tiessen-Dyck of Home Street Mennonite Church, Adam Klassen of Hope Mennonite Church, DeLayne Toews of River East Mennonite Brethren Church, and Karin Neufeld and her husband Kurt Lemky of Grain of Wheat Church-Community live in intentional community. They share groceries, meals, household roles and practise spiritual disciplines, striving together to live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The six see their intentional community as a supplement to the larger church congregations they belong to.

“The biggest highlight for me is [this is] a space where people can share what they’re really passionate about, and where I feel like I can draw from people’s faith journeys,” says Karin. “Often in a congregational setting . . . I feel like I’m on the fringes a little bit. I really like being surrounded [in the house] by people who have lots of different faith journeys, but also really strong beliefs. I feel like I can draw from that, and feel like I have space to have my own faith and not feel intimidated.”

The six contemplated forming an intentional community for a few months before moving in together in last August. DeLayne, Kurt and Karin got an idea of what it might be like after working and living together on a community-supported farm near Winnipeg. Adam had thought about intentional communities since studying at Canadian Mennonite University, and Mark and Melissa were exposed to intentional communities while on voluntary serv-
ice assignments and while Mark studied at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., for the last couple of years.

Before moving in together, they met a handful of times to create a covenant that outlines their beliefs, how they hope to interact with each other and with the world.

In a category in the covenant called “house politics,” the group has identified things like a desire to make decisions by consensus, supporting and encouraging each other’s gifts, valuing each other’s contributions and sharing meals together.

Another category, “world politics,” outlines how the group wants to live faithfully in the world through hospitality, stewardship, “nonviolent peacemaking through Christ-like activism,” simplicity, justice, creation care and “creative merrymaking.”

The group gets together every Monday night for a house meeting to discuss how things are going, and they take turns making supper each night so that whoever is around at 6 p.m. can eat together. Three times a week, the group practises lectio divina (a spiritual discipline that involves reading, meditating, praying and contemplating scripture), and every second Friday they host a potluck open to friends and family.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci, pastor of Winnipeg’s Little Flowers Community and author of the book The Cost of Community, says that intentional communities are increasingly desirable for people—and something that other Christians should perhaps consider doing—because today’s culture continually celebrates and promotes individualism, and people are not created for that kind of isolated existence.

“What intentional community does is, it provides a context that requires of us to have relationships with greater depth, greater selflessness and, as the name suggests, greater intentionality,” says Arpin-Ricci, who has lived in various intentional communities for the past 17 years.

He adds that it is because of the conflicts that can occur that intentional commu-nity is so valuable. “Generally what conflict in communities is, is our selfishness and individualism rubbing up against someone else’s, and we have a choice to either be self-serving or be humble,” he says.

People who can go through the process of being vulnerable and genuine with others become more of who they really are, he adds, comparing it to marriage: “It’s one of the best and hardest things someone can do, and if it’s done well and done right, everyone involved will discover more fullness of life, both in relationship to their own identities, in their relationship with others and their relationship with God.”

After eight months together, the six young adults say they have had no major conflicts so far, but recognize that conflict is a part of living in an intentional community, and that it might just be a matter of time.

“I think we’re still in the honeymoon period,” Melissa says.

“I don’t think we’ve learned to fight yet,” Karin adds.

“I’m looking forward to that in Year Two,” DeLayne deadpans.

Everyone laughs. Living together may not be easy, but these six have experienced the benefits and are committed to keep working at it.

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