Resources for Communities: The Complexities of Hospitality

It’s been almost there years since we embarked on our grand experiment of intentional community and radical hospitality. The first glow of enthusiasm and novelty has long since worn off, and we are well into the work of grappling with the challenges of life together and the complexities of welcoming “the stranger” into that life.

Just to clarify, I’m not using the word hospitality in the way our current culture often uses it. I’m not talking about making our space and table layout “Martha Stewart-esque”, and inviting our close friends over to enjoy it. That is entertaining, not hospitality.

Christine Pohl, in what I consider the definitive book on Hospitlity, Making Room, makes it clear that the Biblical definition of hospitality is welcoming the stranger. The other. The one not like you.

That brings all manner of complexities. Pohl, in her companion book, “Living into Community – Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, outlines some of them.

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1. Burnout – Sabbath keeping, rest and renewal. Knowing when to close the doors. Knowing when to give what Chris Heureutz in his book on community Unexpected Gifts, calls the gift of absence. Kirk and I took a much needed week away this month, road tripping to other communities, and it refreshed us. Our housemates take advantage of any opportunity to house sit, so that they can enjoy a living space all alone from time to time.

2. Safety – How do we know if the stranger is safe? Recently we had a young man coming by the house regularly asking for a bowl of cereal. Initially we let him in, but found out from some street wise friends that he was active in addiction to crack and had a reputation of violence, and his motives to accessing our home might be in question. So we stopped inviting him in. Third spaces, like the Prayer Truck, larger dinners like Spaghetti Tuesday, give more “public” places for us to get to know the stranger and to assess the risk.

3. Are We Being Used? – What about when people take advantage of our hospitality? When does Spaghetti stop being an inclusive “family” dinner and when does it morph into just another soup kitchen? What do we do when offering someone a couch for a couple night stretches into weeks? Clarifying expectations and setting boundaries early on become very helpful.

4. Limited Resources – What if there isn’t enough? Pohl contends that as we welcome strangers, we can anticipate God’s Presence and supply. But we cannot ignore our finiteness, and we cannot ignore our responsibilities to our family, and the vulnerable ones we have already welcomed. We are presently looking into creative ways to help fund Spaghetti Tuesday, because our commitment to it was depleting our personal resources, and we started having to eat rice and beans a lot.

5. What if we are met with ingratitude? – Is it enough just to serve for the sake of Christ, even if we are not appreciated by those around us?

6. If we welcome strangers into our community, couldn’t they threaten our way of life? – Not everyone who comes through our door will share our perspectives. That is not so much of an issue in brief acts of welcome, but becomes increasingly more challenging in long term relationships. What parts of our identity and commitments are central to who we are?

Pohl goes on to say that a community that does not struggle with these issues is a community that does not offer welcome…and is closed in on itself.

So the struggles are good, and the complexities indicate that we are indeed, practicing radical hospitality and being stretched.

A Day in the Life

What do urban monks, House of Prayer people do anyways? People have a hard time wrapping their heads around our vocation (most Catholics get it right away), so from time to time I find it helpful to post what a day looks like for me.

6 am. I’m in The Nook, a prayer space I created in Kirks and my room. We live in an intentional community with a bunch of other adults, so private space and time is precious and hard to come by. Kirk sleeps later than I, so early mornings are the best time for me to be alone with Jesus. I read, journal and pray.

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8 am. Heartwatch is our weekly Benedictine prayer time at the Vine, our prayer space. Brother David Peter leads us in singing the psalms, interspersed with times of silence and intercession for the city. Two young ladies from Sister Care join us after an early morning working with prostituted women on Barton and we pray together for the sisters they have grown to know and love. My heart is heavy. Today I’m feeling the weight of the loss of a friends grandchild, and the loss of one of our youth at the Living Rock. Too many deaths in our community these days. We cry it out, and trust that the ground is being watered by our prayers and tears, and that life will spring up.

9:30. On reconnaissance, prayer walking and checking out potential new office space for GOHOP. For the last several years, Hughson St Baptist has graciously donated us space, but renovations are coming, so I’m on the prowl for new digs.

10:30. Planning our Internship for the fall, with Peter Giokas, our Internship Director. Dreaming up wild plans for the future, expansion of our training arm. Over the last couple of years, The Lord has brought quite a few academics on our staff of urban/prayer missionaries. We have five folks with M.Divs, and one Doctor of Theology! I find that perplexing and amusing, cause all I have is half a degree of nothing. Jesus, how do you want us to share our gifts to serve the city and the large prayer movement? We are starting to get an inkling of what He is up to but shhhh, it’s a secret!

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12:00. Over to the Living Rock, a ministry to street involved youth in Hamilton. We’ve been partnering with them for years. Tough day today. One of the kids died last week. “I hate this part of our job,” one Rock volunteer shared, “we loose too damn many of them!” The room is full of candles and grieving staff and youth. We sit, pray, listen. Such a privilege to be a gentle witness in these times of loss, to be the loving presence of a people of prayer in their midst. Lots of good connections and conversations with youth happen.

2:00. Still at the Rock. The kids are gone, and we pull out our guitars and spend an hour in worship and intercession for marginalized youth and next generation leaders in our city. Throughout the day I had been checking Facebook for updates on a pastor in our city who was in ICU at a local hospital, and we pray for him as well.

3:30. Yes we do house calls! A friend is struggling with chronic health issues, so our team goes over to her house, anoints her with oil, and prays for her. She explains that she’s been sick on and off since her family moved into this house, and her kids too. “Why don’t we come back and bless and pray through the house?” One of our team member suggest. “Maybe there are some historical and residual spiritual issues at play here that we can deal with.” We make a plan to come back next week to do the house blessing/house cleaning.

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4:15. I’m feeling like a wrung out dishcloth. Such an emotionally and spiritually intense day! Time for baby therapy. We are trying to share life together more as a community, and among other things, that looks like sharing child care. So while our friends Andy and Gwen spring clean their newly purchased Community House, Hannah and I toddle off to the park with their baby and toddler, and introduce them to the wonderful world of slides. “Again! Again!” I can feel the stress slide away and my spirit quietens.

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6:00. One thing I love about intentional community is that I only have to cook one night a week! We come home to a lovely dinner on the table (thanks Mary!) and some wonderful dinner guests. A lovely evening chatting about life and ministry. We take time after dinner, around the table, to thank God for the day and to pray for the needs we are aware of.

“We live very simply,” I explain to our guests. “But it’s a good life, and very very rich!”

Yes it is.

Genetic Engineering in the House of Prayer – Welcome to Belle-Hop!

Yesterday Kirk and I paid a visit to Belle Hop, the House of Prayer in Belleville, Ontario. There we were warmly greeted by Wendy Anderson, who made us a lovely lunch and gave us a tour of their exciting storefront facility in downtown Belleville.

The building (as you can see from the video), is quite amazing. Space for hospitality. A worship area for Harp and Bowl, but then multiple other prayer rooms for other kinds of prayer expressions!

Wendy and her team have done some genetic engineering, and have fused the IHOP model of night and day prayer with the 24-7prayer.com model out of the UK.  Her associate director, Jeff Boerger, is an Anglican, and on Monday nights teaches on the spiritual disciplines.  They have a keypad on the backdoor to give 24/7 access, and large whiteboard where people can sign up for an hour towards the goal of praying 24/7.   “One of our community has Down Syndrome,” says Wendy, pointing to some night slot hours.  “He sets his alarm for midnight and prays from home.”

As many of you know, GOHOP has been doing much the same thing over the last 7 years or so, with what to us have been delightful results. But we always felt a bit like the oddball on the Canadian HOP scene. So imagine our delight to find another HOP making the same crazy experiments, fusing the spiritual DNA of two prayer movements! Making room for all kinds of prayer (Ephesians 6:18) makes our prayer space accessible and attractive to a wide variety of prayer enthusiasts, not all whom identify with the charismatic camp. The Spirit of prayer is at work in every denomination! 20140401-072602.jpg 20140401-073002.jpg 20140401-073009.jpg 20140401-073017.jpg   We had a very short time with them, and I can in no way give justice to the scope of their work and the quality of their hearts.  You will just have to go visit them and learn for yourself!  You can find them on facebook here.

Missional Community and Geographic Proximity

Ok, I officially have geography envy.

“We’re going to carry the soup over to the hall. Can you grab that pot?”

It is nearly time for the Love Feast, the weekly dinner the Stockbridge Boiler Room puts on for 60-100 of its neighbors. Tonight’s menu? Soup, salad, bread, and all sorts of yummy pies. The soup has been simmering all afternoon in massive pots on the Boiler Room stove.

How are we going to transport it without it getting cold? That’s what I want to know. We grab the soup, step out the front door.

And then, moments later, step into the hall 2 doors down.

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2 doors down!

I’m amazed at the geographic proximity they have cultivated here in this prayer community. First there is the Boiler room, with its office, kitchen, meeting room, housing for interns, and prayer garage out back, which is accessible 24-7 with a key code box on the door. Then across the alleyway, is the home of the Colliers, one of the elder families of the community. A block away is the home of the Coopers, who are the other elders. And the meeting hall for Love Feast? Two doors down. Other members of the community live just short walks away as well.

After the Love Feast, Hannah and the Boiler Room Vision student, Michelle, came home to find some local girls sitting on the front steps of the Boiler Room, waiting for them to come out and play. What a loving witness to this community!

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One of the 12 Marks of New Monasticism is geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life. And these guys in Grand Rapids have it in spades! It’s exciting to experience what kind of community this geographic proximity can create.

Anybody wanna move to Greenaway Ave? I’ve got my eyes on a rooming house around the corner from us. It’s a little rough right now, but the landlord is working on it, and I can envision it being wonderful overflow housing for members of our community. And it has a massive garage/shed in the back…..

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Pilgrimage to Stockbridge Boiler Room

After five hours on the road, we finally arrived at the Stockbridge Boiler Room, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It looked like…

A house.

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A big one, mind you.

With a garage in the back.

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Also a big one.

We knew we were late, so we tiptoed in sheepishly, only to be warmly welcomed.

“It’s the Canadians!”

Tim, the preacher, didn’t miss a beat, and got back to his sermon. Apparently he was used to interruptions, as his baby boy gleefully crawled around at his feet.

The garage was decorated like the prayer rooms we become familiar with, and was crowded with locals and visitors like ourselves.

After the service, I had questions. “How is this zoned?”

“It’s actually the church building, and the house is the parsonage. We had to make it wheelchair accessible and install a toilet.”

It’s a fascinating community configuration. The garage is the prayer room, accessible 24-7 with a door keypad. The house attached is the home base of the boiler room. Offices and meeting room on the main floor, and housing for interns and Vision students. “Boys on the main floor, girls upstairs.” Tim and Brooke, and Jordan and Charis, the elders of the community live a block or so away. A life of prayer and service in tight geographic proximity. The house also hosted a guest room. So after a late dinner of Spanish tapas (Kirk accidentally ordered a plate of plain cheese cubes for his supper) at a local eatery, we tucked ourselves in so we could be up in time for morning prayer.;

Resources for Intentional Communities – The Mistakes We Make

Saturday was community house meeting day. Once a month Kirk and I. And our housemates gather at the local Timmies, take care of any house business, and learn a bit together about intentional community.

This Saturday we discussed the mistakes we’ve made in communities past and present. We talked about the need to “seek to understand” rather than to just jump in and try to correct a situation. We talked about how radical hospitality can be scary as we step beyond our comfort zones and invite people we might formerly avoid into our lives and home.

I shared about my over-responsibility, my tendency to do more than I should. It’s my love language (which is service, if you didn’t already guess) that spins out of control from time to time. But doing for you what you can do for yourself can communicate that I don’t think you can do it, and can be disempowering. And then I do more than I should, and I get tired and cranky. Ask my husband how fun I am to be with when I’m cranky.

Chris Heuertz, in his book Unexpected Gifts, shares with searing honesty about his epic fails in life together. It’s a vital resource for intentional communities, and a great read.

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I read another great blog by Lindsay Hamby this week about the sacrifice involved in intentional community and wanted to share it with you.

Sitting with Jesus, eating that stupid piece of bacon, He showed me that everyday living in this house I am faced with a series of choices: I can pretend that I am entitled to a certain amount of space and quiet – calling on my rights as a member of Western Culture – disregarding the fact that most of the rest of the world shares less space and less food with more people, and forgetting that I actually belong to a Greater Kingdom. I can ignore the prodding in my spirit towards generosity and seek my own provision and comfort. I can fake a smile, hide in my room, and secretly pray for everyone to disappear.

Or I can embrace the tension. I can acknowledge that my discomfort is revealing deeper sin and let it be confronted by love and mercy. I can allow the Holy Spirit to stretch me, to make me more like Jesus. I can look my doubt and fear straight in the face, over and over, a dozen times a day. I can make the most of this crowded season, because the reality is, that without these beautiful human beings all up in my space, I would continue living blissfully unaware of how far I am from true dependence on Jesus.

You can read the rest of it here.

There was a lovely spirit of humility around the table at Timmies as we shared our failings and vulnerabilities. We committed to loving truth telling, and helping one another when we feel weak. I was reminded what a rich experience intentional community is, and how much I love it!

Two Weeks of 24-7 Prayer for Hamilton – Feb 21 – March 7

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Last year, over 500 people from 76 different churches joined together for 2 weeks of 24/7 prayer for Hamilton.
Join us for two weeks of continuous prayer night and day at the Vine from Feb 21st to March 7th following the True City Conference. The Theme for this year’s conference is “A Tale of Two Kingdoms”. Together we are sharing stories of how the Church (that’s you!) is subverting the empire of the world and welcoming God’s reign in our city.

Imagine this: a space where you can come by yourself or with friends, pour yourself a hot drink, and settle into a small table or a couch in conversation or with a book. Imagine now that it’s a free space, and that it’s open 24 hours a day, for two weeks straight. Enter, The Vine Cafe. If you find a friend in the prayer room (which often happens) or are meeting to pray with your small group, now you can stay and chat without distracting others seeking solace. Just a few feet from the prayer room, you can bring friends in to the space for a drink and to let them check out the space. We’re excited.

We love that people who don’t usually find time for prayer in their schedule feel drawn to the prayer space at the Vine. We want to celebrate this further by introducing a rhythm of common prayer throughout each day. We will be following the daily liturgies from the Northumbria Community at 9am, 12pm, 5pm, and 9pm. Inspired by Celtic Christianity and living with vulnerability and availability. Common prayer will range from five minutes to fifteen, and will be marked by a small bell five minutes beforehand.

If you’re searching for God in a world addicted to noise, distractions, and hurry, open our door and breathe deeply. Find friends. Find peace. Find God.

“I’m in. What’s the next step?”
Sign up at http://www.24-7prayer.com/signup/ca9a0b to fill an hour of prayer by yourself/with a friend/with a group.