Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I'm not a huge fan of tolerance as a mantra of existence.  I’m not suggesting intolerance…please don’t get me wrong.  But tolerance—live and let live, I’m OK, you’re OK, do-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-it-doesn’t-get-in-my-way—suggests an embrace of individualism that stands in direct contrast to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or “Love your neighbor as God has loved you,” or, “Love your enemies.”

Last Saturday, we worked at the soon-to-be-occupied Lawrence Road Hospitality House.  Young and old, black and white, women and men, able-bodied (most everybody else) and infirm (that would be me after two weeks of intensive home renovations), we grabbed paintbrushes, and rollers, and pry bars…and we worked.  

And while we worked, we talked.  But more importantly, we listened.  I listened as two teenagers shared their lives with a woman who after 30 years of teaching had probably already heard it all.  You’d never have known that, though, by the quality of her listening.  I listened while three teenagers raucously engaged the painting job at hand and squealed with delight at the chance to be together after a long summer of absence. All of us listened—in truth, there was no other choice.  

Two families discovered that they had been neighbors for years.  Several who were sharing a common paint bucket were astounded by how long it had been since they checked in with one another.  And of course, the conversation included a certain amount of whining about aching joints and tired limbs (that might have been me) and the folks listened to that, too.

Now that might sound like the classic definition of tolerance—but I didn’t feel tolerated.  I felt loved and engaged and embraced and needed and enjoyed and…did I mention loved? Because people listened to me, and listened to each other, seeking to understand more than to be understood, to love more than to be loved.

My prayer is that Hospitality House will be more than just a place to hang one’s hat.  My prayer is that this will be a home for young adults who have chosen to forebear tolerance in favor of engagement, to put aside the cultural imperative to individualism and embrace a unity that we believe is found in Christ Jesus. My prayer is that this House will be a place of talking, of laughter and of tears, and a place of deep listening, too.  Last Saturday was a very good start.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What does that mean?

An intentional community: a community that draws on the tradition of service and justice that we understand to be at the core of our faith commitments, whose members will live simply, participate in a communal way, and explore both new and ancient spiritual practices as they engage in the neighborhood where they live and with the organizations that they serve. 

Next door to the Lawrence Road Church, something new and exciting is happening. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we are working hard to create an intentional Christian community of young adults with a strong heart for the city and a passion to serve.   

But what does that mean, really? What does that look like in practice?  

Are we talking about the old hippie communes of my West Coast childhood....

Or is this more of what we have in mind....

      Or, Lord help us and the neighborhood, too, this.....

The truth is that intentional communities are as different as the people who live in them, different from year to year, from one class of residents to another.  Our intentional community may look a lot like its sister Bethany House of Hospitality….

Or it may look altogether different.  Only time will tell.

But here are a few of the basics. Our five residents will be young men and women, defined as 21-something to 35-something, all of whom will be engaged in some form of service to the greater Trenton area. They will share the house at 1069 Lawrence Road. They will each have their own room, but they'll share the common spaces.  They'll share meals, too, with me and other members of the community at least once a week for Vespers, and more depending on what they decide for themselves.  With my help, they will together develop a covenant, a rule of life, which will guide them in decision-making and conflict-resolution.

For conflicts there will be.  We know that going into intentional community, that living together in close quarters will require the intentional practices of grace, forgiveness, forbearance, and humility.  Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said.  Blessed are the meek, the humble, the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  

In  its essence, intentional community is a way of living that demands that those who practice it successfully will live out what Jesus meant when he said that we were to love one another as we love ourselves, forgiving 7 times 70, loving God through loving the neighbor who lives down the hall.  Pretty counter-cultural when you think about.  But truly this is the stuff of which the next generation of Christian leaders will be made.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What's going on next door?

It began for me about twelve years ago, at a meeting of the Higher Education Committee of the Presbytery of New Brunswick.  That's when I started thinking about young adults, intentional community, and the dream of a House of Hospitality right here in urban New Jersey. 

We put money aside. $15,000, as I recall. But nothing came of it.  We had no idea what we were doing.  We had no house.  We had no young adults.

But the idea stayed there, percolating in the back of my mind, and in the minds of a few others.

And then, in early summer 2011, the Bethany Presbyterian Church in Trenton, NJ, closed its doors and its manse stood vacant.  With the help of the Urban Fund of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, and many, many willing hands and strong backs, and much fervent prayer, the Bethany House of Hospitality, an intentional young adult Christian community, was born, welcoming its first class of five residents in September/October of 2011.  The dream had become a beautiful reality.
Bethany House of Hospitality
So, in June 2013, when the long-standing relationship between HomeFront and the Lawrence Road Church to provide transitional housing for the homeless ended due to lack of funding, and the five-bedroom house just north of the church became available, the Urban Mission Cabinet and the folks at Lawrence Road dared to dream of an expanding network of intentional communities for young adults serving in the city.  The house needed a lot of work to reclaim the space as a place of hospitality, comfort, and community.  But God had blessed us with the success of Bethany House and we were ready.  With the help of the Urban Fund of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, and many, many willing hands and strong backs, and much fervent prayer, the Lawrence Road House of Hospitality is coming into being (did I mention that the house needed a LOT of work) and will welcome its first class of residents on September 1, 2013.
Lawrence Road House of Hospitality   
That's what's going on next door to the Lawrence Road Church in August 2013.  We're building a place where each year, five young adults whose hearts are on fire for God's people in the city will live simply, participate in a communal way of life, and explore both new and ancient spiritual practices, all the while engaging in the neighborhood where they live and with the organizations they serve.

In two weeks, this dream becomes a reality just north of the Lawrence Road Church.  Is that fabulous, or what?

A note about the photographs:  I took the LRHoH photo and David Byars took the Bethany House shot.  He's a much better photographer than I am...