Amidst the hustle of Birmingham city centre, there is an unusual experiment in community occurring. Carrs Lane Lived Community (CLLC) began in the summer of 2013, when married couple Stephanie and Matthew where invited to start an intentional community in an apartment at the Church at Carrs Lane. This year, they gained a new member – Sister Mary Joseph, a 90-year old nun who deserves a blog post all to herself – and welcomed Melissa on a ‘year in community’ internship. With us now staying until Christmas, the flat is full. We’ve been here for nearly two weeks, and as our ‘purposeful adventure’ continues, here’s an introduction to the flavour of CLLC.
A New Monastic Community?
Matthew and Stephanie are reluctant to identify CLLC with New Monasticism, seeing the term as a bandwagon to be jumped on by groups that don’t truly fulfill all the New Monastic criteria. However, in describing the work and character of the community, I think it’s interesting to reference the ’Twelve Marks of New Monasticism’.
By placing themselves in the centre of a city, near the neighbourhoods of Sparkbrook and Bordesley Green, some of the most deprived in the country, CLLC is located in one of the “abandoned places of Empire” (mark 1). The have a radical attitude to economics (mark 2). The community have a common purse, pooling their income. The give away a proportion to charity every month, set aside a budget for communal food and local travel, and draw a very modest stipend for personal spending, taking the minimum wage as a reference point. They practice hospitality to the stranger (mark 3). In the ten days we’ve been here, there have been several visitors invited up to the flat after evening prayer, and international travellers put up for the night. Due to their shared resources, and the fact they don’t pay rent or bills, community members are released to do regular volunteer work during the week. This work takes them into areas of reconciliation (mark 4), volunteering on community allotments, in areas of deprivation and with asylum seekers. They nurture a common life and welcome outsiders to share in it (mark 7 & 9) through living together and sharing meals daily. Their care for the environment (mark 10) is expressed through their wormery, used to feed the various green growing things they have around the flat. They also participate in Urban Harvest, collecting fruit that would otherwise be left to rot. Matthew also helps out on at a local community allotment, with soil crusted leeks and kale currently gracing the kitchen countertops. The main commitment community members make is to a disciplined contemplative life (mark 12). There is prayer twice a day during the week, at 7.30am and 7pm. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus provide the focal point on Fridays and Mondays respectively. Tuesdays are devoted to Taizé-style worship, Lectio Divina is practiced on Wednesdays, and Thursdays are always a little experimental.
The influence of Taizé
To really understand the nature of CLLC, the influence of the Taizé community must be mentioned. Stephanie and Matthew are deeply embedded in Taizé, having visited during the summer and attended the New Year European gatherings for many years. They even had their honeymoon at Taizé. The Taizé influence is most obviously evident in the Taizé-style services they have every Tuesday. It also shines through in the communities emphasis on a regular prayer life, every prayer service including about ten minutes of silence, and their use of icons. The spirit of ecumenism is also an important element. Taizé brothers come from many different Christian traditions – CLLC currently has people from Catholic, Free-church and Quaker traditions living together. The Taizé influence is such that Adrian and I are already making plans to visit the community in 2015.
We’ve settled into a pattern of prayer, domesticity and volunteer work. Our volunteering is chiefly with people dealing with homelessness, alcohol and drug addictions (SifaFireside), and refugees/asylum seekers (St Chad’s Sanctuary). It has been an eye-opening and challenging couple of weeks, and we are convinced our stay will be a fruitful one.
After three months in the states, we’ve returned to British birds with fresh eyes. It’s great to hear the blackbirds again. Some other highlights include:
- Kingfishers! Both on the pond at Woodbrooke and along the canal near Middleton Lakes
- Peregrine Falcon on the National Grid gas towers in Aston
- Greywagtail on the Birmingham and Fazeley canal
- The calls of lapwing and wigeon on the misty waters of Middleton Lakes