On Tuesday, whilst visiting a community in Birmingham, I spent several hours digging over a vegetable plot, preparing it for vegetable seeds to be planted. I have a big blister on my thumb and a painfully pink neck to prove it. Every intentional community we’ve visited so far has involved digging and planting, whether it’s hawthorn trees, Worcester berry bushes or spring onions. Back in March 2011, I planted a seed of a different sort. I wrote an open letter with the intention of starting a Quaker intentional community in London:
I would like to share a vision with you of the type of community I long to be a part of. I hope for an intentional community of people in London that:
· Support each other in daily spiritual practice
· Commit to spiritual growth through group study and prayer
· Is centered on the person of Jesus
· Have a covenanted relationship with each other
· See the community as family
· Discern each others gifts and liberate each other to follow these leadings
· Practices discernment (in the Quaker sense) in community decision making
· Share food, practicing a fellowship of the table
· Focus on hospitality to friend, enemy and stranger
· Practically engage with people in the local neighourhood
· Share economic resources with fellow each other and the needy among us – perhaps even moving towards a common purse
· Are creative, curious and experimental
· Support committed couples (both same and opposite sex) and honours singleness
· Is both Quaker and part of the wider church
· Commit to peacemaking and conflict resolution within the community
· Is sustainable
At first glance, this fell on stony ground. We’re leaving London in a couple of months, an intentional Quaker community still unfounded. The vision didn’t put down roots.
Harvesting the fruits
Look at the bigger picture, and this letter is bearing fruit like we never imagined!
We met Tobias Jones and visited his community in Somerset. His writings on community have been really important to our search and initial vision, and it was great to talk things through with him and see how his own vision is playing out.
My open letter spawned a small discussion group, which included our friend Josie. She suggested we check out the Quaker Intentional Village – Canaan in New York State. Just a few weeks ago we were formally accepted by folks at the QIVC to live and volunteer with them from August to October! We’ve recently booked our flights to New York! That’s the first piece in the puzzle sorted.
This discussion group led me to start a blog. On reading my posts, a mutual friend recommended the Carrs Lane Lived Community, a new inner-city community in Birmingham whom we visited this weekend. We were made very welcome by Steph and Matthew, who live in a flat provided by the Carrs Lane Church. This ‘releases’ them to be present in the city, both by leading morning and evening prayer on weekdays, and through voluntary work with local charities. They have committed to do no more than three days paid work each week to allow them enough time to serve their local community. They also have a common purse, pooling their earnings from which they draw an equal stipend, making sure they’re not in danger of getting rich! We spent time with them, chatting about their vision for the community and the details of how things work. They also took us along to some of the projects they currently volunteer with, sorting clothes for asylum seekers at St Chad’s Sanctuary, and digging vegetable plots (hence the blisters!) on an allotment for the Springfield Project.
Doubts and discernment
At Carrs Lane, we’ve found another community that, although not Quaker, resonates with our original vision. With many of the communities I visit, there is a pang of anxiety. Jean Vanier, in his Community and Growth, writes that:
‘When someone visits a community and feels completely at home in perfect harmony with the others and with the community itself, that is possibly a sign that they are perhaps called to put down roots there. This feeling is often a call from God, which must be confirmed by the call of the community. The covenant is the meeting of two calls which confirm each other… Of course doubt can creep in after that first experience. Drawn by the seduction of the wealth and concerns of the world, by fear of criticism, by difficulties and persecution, we can turn away from that revelation of the light. We look for excuses: “I’m not yet ready; I have to travel, look around, experience the world; we’ll see in a few years.” But often we won’t hear that call again. We shall be caught up in other affairs; we shall have found other friends to overcome the feeling of loneliness, we shall no longer have the chance of living that fundamental experience of belonging to a community of hope. We shall set off on another road and the meeting with God will perhaps be of another sort, at another moment.’
I find I have a fear of ‘missing the boat’, of neglecting the opportunity to make the right decision. Is this the right community but the wrong time? Am I letting other things cloud my judgement? All we can do is ask for guidance with the small steps we take each day, and the courage to make leaps of faith when we need to. We’re beginning to set up a support group for the two of us, to help us along the journey. They’ll be the people we email with prayer requests, explaining situations best not written about on a public blog. We should also remember that God is like a refining fire, so we should expect to be transformed. Who knows how our experiences in the US will change us!
In the meantime there’s still lots to do. We’ve both resigned from our jobs, and before long we’ll be moving out of our flat. Momentum is building as we go through our possessions, assigning them to storage in my parents’ loft, to the charity shop or to be given away to friends. We’re also trying to make sure we have time to say goodbye to our friends in London properly. Above all, our mantra is a bible verse we had at our wedding celebration: ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’