Nurturing Communities Conference

Launched in 2010, The Nurturing Communities Project (NCP) nurtures and resources intentional spiritual communities across North America. David Janzen, author of The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus recognized the need and value of bringing together more experienced communal groups and energetic leaders from younger communities to share old wisdom and new experiences for the long haul. The latest NCP conference was held in October 2014 in Chicago, hosted by Reba Place Fellowship, the home community of David Janzen.

Chris Hellewell, a member of Salsbury’s board of directors, and 2 members of our partnering church Grandview Calvary Baptist attended. They were sent to share and gain insights around intentional community living and to build connections with other groups to enliven and sustain our efforts. Their reflections on their experience follows.

NURTURING COMMUNITIES CONFERENCE 2015 – by Chris Hellewell, Scott Neufeld and Joy Banks

Joy:

When David Janzen, author of The Intentional Christian Community Handbook,  visited Grandview Calvary Baptist Church (GCBC), he encouraged us to come to Chicago in October for the Nurturing Christian Communities Conference hosted by Reba Place Fellowship, a common-purse community that has been operating for nearly 60 years.  Scott Neufeld, Chris Hellewell, and myself were grateful to be able to go and connect with many other groups from Christian communities across North America that are seeking to collectively live the vision of the Kingdom of God in creative and radical ways.  Part of the conference also involved visiting two long-standing communities in Chicago: Jesus People USA and Reba Place Fellowship.

We were encouraged to hear that many other communities have had similar struggles as ours: how to deepen community in the midst of transition, dealing with disappointments in community, and the challenges of working through controversial issues.  We were challenged by the many communities who are living with alternative economic models, such as sharing income and resources, and came back grappling with questions of how we, too, may be called to deeper economic experimentation and interdependence.  The Reba Place Fellowship in particular had many similarities to GCBC; we are hoping for greater connection between our church and community and theirs in the future.

Here are links to 4 Different Communities that participated:

Recommended Resources:

  • The Intentional Christian Community Handbook by David Janzen
  • Magazine and publications of the Bruderhof Community: http://www.plough.com
  • Community & Growth by Jean Vanier

Scott:

I was most impressed by the way that the Reba Place Fellowship modeled an inspiring form of alternative community economics. They share a ‘common purse’ and meet regularly in small groups for community discernment.

How does a common purse work?

  • Community members work regular jobs, some inside and some outside of the community, and their pay checks are directly deposited into the community’s ‘common purse’ bank account. Everyone then gets a monthly allowance out of this common fund which is determined according to the number of dependents (e.g. children) you support. This monthly payment is used for food, clothing, entertainment and other basics.
  • The actual monthly amount is not a lot (calculated to be near the poverty line) which means that leftover income builds up in the common purse bank account and can be put towards other, communal uses. This surplus means there can be a very large amount of cash available for the community to put towards things like purchasing new property/housing without a mortgage (e.g. they bought an $800, 000 apartment building with cash), paying for healthcare, and paying for the vacations of individuals or families in the communities.
  • Community members don’t pay rent but rather live in a diverse array of community-owned housing, ranging from single family houses to many people sharing one house or a communal apartment style building, similar to what the Co:Here project will be like.
  • The common purse functions as an economic equalizer: some individuals bring in more money than others. This allows the community to also welcome and live alongside people with no income whatsoever (e.g. individuals with severe physical or mental handicaps).

Discerning Together and Mutual Submission

  • Fellowship members participate in small groups (6-8 people) who meet on a weekly basis to do life together and practice collective discernment. This process is one of mutual challenge and encouragement in trying to follow Jesus together. For example, in order to encourage a “kingdom ethic” of how finances are used, purchases by an individual or family over $50 are discerned with your small group, purchases over $500 are discerned with the fellowship leadership team (elected every three years) and your small group.
  • Major life decisions are also discerned together. For example, individual vocations are often discerned and post-secondary education is often funded by the common purse.
  • I was impressed with how this practice of community discernment, rather than being legalistic and constraining, meant the opportunity to struggle together in the difficult task of following Jesus faithfully. It meant having a group of close friends who cared about you deeply, but who you’d also given permission to speak into your life in a formative way.

How do you join? How do you leave?

  • Joining the fellowship as a ‘full covenant’ member requires a gradual process of discernment. “Practicing members” are discerning if they are called to intentional community life, “novice members” discern if THIS is the right intentional community for them, and full covenant members make a long term commitment, “until God calls them elsewhere’.
  • There was a lot of effort put into NOT creating conditions where someone would ever feel coerced or ‘trapped’ in the fellowship because of the common purse. If a young person decided to leave, they would set them up with maybe a car and enough money for the first month of rent on an apartment. If an older person (e.g. retirement age) was going to leave the community, they would set them up with significantly more money (e.g. equivalent of a retirement savings plan). That way, transitions out of the community are well-supported.

Chris:

I found many things about the Nurturing Communities Gathering and the Reba community inspiring but one tangible thing I took from our visit there was that even though there are various models of housing available in the Reba community and each of these models facilitate community in different ways, there is a strong recognition that community functions beyond the walls of any single building.

Reba Place Fellowship was established in Evanston in 1957 on Reba Place street in a house called “Cana.” In this original house three individuals began to share in a common purse. Since that first house many more houses and multi unit apartment buildings were purchased in a very small area with most of the Reba community living within a mere five block radius. (3 wide, 5 deep).

Reba Place Fellowship manages 24 properties including single family homes, 2-flats, 6- flats, multi-unit buildings and one commercial office rental space. These properties are valued roughly between 13-18 million dollars. Besides housing their own folks, they are able to provide affordable rental housing for many church members and neighbours. They have also developed affordable condos and rental properties through establishing Reba Place Development Corporation.

There are various models of housing that exist in the Reba Community. Some families and individuals do not live in the small neighbourhood confines that I mentioned above but rather commute in from various places. The majority however live within the area, largely in buildings owned by the Reba fellowship.

I stayed on after the conference was over and my two extra days were a whirlwind of activity. On Tuesday morning, the day after the conference finished I met with Alan Howe at 7 am in the Reba Place Fellowship office as he wanted to learn about our community and share about the Reba community. I was invited for a moment up to his apartment where he lives with his wife.  After this meeting, I met immediately with David Janzen and we went to the Reba shop and gathered supplies for painting. With a little cart in tow I was directed to the basement of “House of Peace.”   This area is used for meetings of the tenants of the building and also for some Reba meetings. The building was once the place of the most 911 calls in all of Evanston, including several shootings, before Reba bought the building and removed the drug dealers with the help of pressure from neighbours and other tenants in the building.

After a morning of painting I went in search of food and discovered when I arrived at the Patch and had access to WIFI that I had a new email from David Hovde, who was responsible for accommodation for the gathering, who had invited me to lunch with him and Bob at “The Clearing”. David is the principle care giver for Bob was is in a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy. I was grateful for the welcome and food as I had not eaten breakfast with all the running around in the morning. When we finished I went back to complete the painting I was tasked with. In the evening I was invited back to “The Clearing” for dinner where I believe 8 or 9 people live. In this home there is a mix of mostly single adults, several who are seniors and a few younger ones, there is one elderly couple who have been around since the early days of the Reba Fellowship. They share a common meal every night and all gather around a very large table that is actually several tables combined with plywood on top of them in the shape of a great oval that fills a good part of the width of the dinning room.

After dinner I returned to “The Patch” where I showered and dressed only to be immediately invited back out this time to “Cana” house for a potluck and lecture. I arrived to find a small group with David Janzen and others speaking very frankly about their lives and struggles and asking and receiving prayer from one another. I was asked to participate if I wished and so I did. The lecture was led by Sally Youngquist and one of the younger University students I was staying with. After this lecture I was told that there was birthday party back at “The Patch” and a goodbye for a person who had been discerning whether to join the Reba Fellowship but was moving to Montreal.

The next morning at 8 am I was invited over to David and Joanne Janzen’s place for breakfast where they live in a modest second floor of a three story house. After this I walked back to The Patch” and packed up my things for my trip to Toronto. One of the folks from the house offered to drive me to the airport which was amazing and we went on a short search to find a car. Checking in with several houses and people before getting keys and finding a newer model SUV owned by the community and drove off.

All this detail to say that community life at Reba is dense and thriving. The close proximity of the various buildings helps bring the shared life of the church and fellowship even closer. Hospitality is practiced everywhere there, and discernment and discipleship are key elements in the day to day life of the community. Although the various housing that Reba provides are quite different, there is a shared life clearly beyond any single dwelling and that shared life is extended to visitors like us, but also to the neighbourhood and into all neighbours.