In answer to a question about my faith journey asked by Sally Schreiner, director of Reba Place Fellowship, I am sharing my testimony which I wrote a while back. I plan on visiting Reba Place Fellowship on the Christian intentional communities tour I am planning in July. I feel so delighted that conversation is already taking place even before I visit.
I had been reluctant to contact Reba Place Fellowship about visiting them because I was convinced that they would probably be too overwhelmed by inquiries to get back to me in a timely manner, if ever. I thought I needed a really impressive blog and email to get some attention. But when I was trying to decide whether or not to take a tour of Christian intentional communities, I just decided to send a quick email to David who is the contact person for people wanting to visit. He wrote me back almost immediately with a welcoming response which lead to me communicating with the director of Reba Place Fellowship, Sally Schreiner Youngquist, who asked me a number of insightful questions, including:
“Are you part of a group in your home community that is looking at starting something together?”
First I want to explain our situation. Living Springs is what I would call an intentional neighborhood. Bob and Joan Rutz bought about 600 acres of land in the late 1990’s near Kingston, Arkansas. They believed that God was calling them to start a community. The land was divided into many different lots most of which were 5 acres. A handful of families came during the Y2K threat and purchased land. Other families came in the years following. It is really just a neighborhood. Some people cooperate more than others. Everyone is completely autonomous. Many attend the weekly Sunday gathering. Many do not.
We have yet to meet anyone who has bought land at Living Springs who are interested in creating an community where people other than family or extended family live together and share income. However, I do have one friend who is intrigued by my ideas about intentional community and is glad that I am actually visiting ones that have been successful. She shares my idealism, but is afraid that the ideas can’t be lived up to.
My family which is comprised of two former husbands and our two children, are not in complete unity about how we want to use our 27 acres of land. Because of our past failures of living in or starting community, my children are a bit discouraged about the possibilities. But they are open.
I am in good relationship with both of my former husbands, who co-own the land with me, and I believe that we could successfully divide the land so that if folks who were interested in living community wanted to start a pioneering effort, this could be done.
In 2002 a community building was funded by one of the members of the house church. Since it was equipped with showers, laundry and other facilities, this made it easier for people to live very simply on their land–including our family.
We started attending the house church in 2001, and bought land in 2002, and moved on the land in 2004. We feel very grateful for the safe environment this has provided for our children especially.
This is an answer I am giving to a question that Sally Schreiner Youngquist, director of Reba Place Fellowship, asked me as a part of a conversation we are having so that they can be most effective in supporting me in my goals as I visit there.
“How did you first get exposed to the idea of intentional Christian community and interested in becoming part of one?”
I have been interested in being part of an intentional community in about 1975 when I was 21. This is when I first learned of the concept from the Intentional Communities Directory published by the Federation of Intentional Communities. I was not a Christian at that time, and so I skipped over the Christian communities that were in the guidebook assuming that they would not want me to be there.
When my husband (now former husband) and I moved out to the country an hour from Fayetteville, Arkansas, (way out in the sticks) twelve years ago, we were invited to visit a house church which was based on the open church model. People sat in a circle and were allowed much freedom as they shared scriptures, prayer, songs, teachings and testimonials. They were part of a kind of Christian community which you can learn about at www.Christiancommunities.com called Living Springs. People owned their own land and cooperated as they felt inspired. It was more like a neighborhood than community, but we were very much drawn to this place because it was community. Even though we were not Christians, we and our two children were very much welcomed. Even before we gave our lives to Christ we decided to buy land.
Our whole family surrendered our lives to Christ about six months after we got involved with this loosely knit community. We all had a vision of having an intentional Christian community on our land. We had tried to start or join or help start secular intentional communities before, so we had some experience. But all our attempts to draw people failed. We lived on the land for years, but found it hard to make a living and also hard to live without being on the grid.
My husband and I split up about three years ago with the challenges of trying to make a very complicated life work. My desire to live in community was not shared as much by him. If I had the connection I have with Jesus that I have now, I believe that I could have had the strength to stay in the relationship. I also think that if I was living in a healthy community, it would have helped a lot.
I continued to dream of community on our 27 acres, but it seemed so impossible with fractured family relationships and no one living on the land any more. When I read about Shane Claiborne and the Simple Way community, I envisioned starting an urban community in Fayetteville. But somehow I would always get caught up having to make money or be drawn to other causes plus always prioritizing nurturing my relationships with my children who are now 17 and 24.
Last November, I once again got inspired to focus energy on creating community on our land. I happened to read an article about a woman who lives in Twin Oaks, one of the oldest secular communities in the United States. I remembered connecting with her about fourteen years ago when I visited Twin Oaks. I emailed her with questions and was delighted to hear from her almost immediately. She told me about the Intentional Christian Communities Handbook . Somehow I had never heard about it. I was really excited about the book, but once again I got caught up in business and postponed going forward.
I did not order the book until about February 2013. When I got it, I read it from cover to cover almost immediately. I had new hope of starting community on our land. Then I got busy again.
In Dec 2012, I attended the One Thing conference for young people in Kansas City where I felt inspired to create more community in our Christian fellowship which I had been part of on and off for the past 12 years. But in early May, I realized that a big part of why so many of us were failing to follow Jesus like we wanted to was of our busy-ness. I knew without a doubt that I just had to follow my dream of creating a Christian community. Thus I started thinking about visiting Christian intentional communities.
Through my connection with folks who are into the Immanuel Approach, I contacted Jim Wilder who then encouraged me to get involved in a discussion about the beta book, Joy Starts Here which you can find here: http://joystartshere.com/
This book has so many elements of helping people who follow Jesus to have healthy community that are not found in other Christian materials I have read–and I am an avid researcher. However, in my four decades of researching, searching for, and experiencing community, I have found that what this book contains is almost every element of healing and healthy relating that non-Christian communities encourage.
I bought five books and shared them with people to see if they were on the same wave length. I felt so encouraged by the enthusiastic response. I have been a forum where people are giving feedback about the book, and I am happy to see the harmonious interactions going on.
I encourage you to learn more about this book.