As part of being in the Episcopal Service Corps, I live with five other people from the program in an intentional community. This can mean a lot of different things, but for us, it means we share some of our resources, eat together, pray together, clean together, and commit to life-giving relationships with each other.
As part of imagining what we wanted our community to look like, we wrote and took vows of openness, simplicity, peace and justice, spiritual growth, and intentionality in shared life. These vows sound nice on paper, but living together is a beautiful, challenging mess, and I’d like to share some of the ways I’ve learned to navigate it.
1. Hang out in shared space
I live in a house full of people who tend to disappear into their rooms, including myself. But as an ambivert (intro- and extrovert) I start to get lonely if no one comes and knocks on my door, which is silly because I don’t knock on other people’s doors either! I’ve tried to counteract my loneliness by setting up in the living room with a book, my journal, or, to be real honest, Netflix. This lowers the barrier to interaction, meaning people don’t have to seek you out and awkwardly knock on your door in order to see you. We’ve all started hanging out more in our shared spaces, and even though half the time we’re silent, reading, writing, crafting, or watching whatever, it’s nice not to be alone. Plus, it’s great to hear people laugh when they come across something funny.
2. Share Meals
We spend the most time together around meals. We cook in pairs, and sometimes other people are lured in to hanging out in the kitchen. We gather around the table, talk about our days, and eat almost always delicious food. We’ve only had a few mishaps, like my not fully cooked chicken (reminders about the vow of forgiveness). Mealtimes are where we break out the puns, laugh at immature things, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. I firmly believe that food builds community like nothing else. I would make that a pun if I could.
Sharing life together isn’t complete without sharing drinks, and I’m not just talking about alcohol (but also that). I drink everything – coffee, beer, tea, wine, orange juice, bourbon, which gives me an advantage over people who are more discriminatory in their drink preferences. In the mornings, the “coffee fairy” (usually me) makes the coffee. We fill up our travel mugs and drink our coffee on the train to work. At community dinners, which happen once or twice a week, we break out the fancy boxed wine. And my favorite of our habits is when someone makes the evening call for tea. Often, instead of dispersing to our rooms with our mugs, we end up drinking it gathered in the kitchen. All these shared drinks translate to ordinary, yet beautiful, moments.
Doesn’t that all sound magical? Well, magic is hard work.
4. Be honest about your feelings and deal with conflict early.
What happens when you get tired of the way someone talks to you, doesn’t do his or her dishes (see #6), or is never around? Well, we try to remember that we committed to deal with conflict healthily and build meaningful relationships with each other. The only way to do this is to be honest about how you’re feeling, especially when something makes you upset or angry. This is something that I’ve had to really work on. It’s not easy to give or receive criticism. It’s something that we are continually striving to do in more loving ways.
5. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I met my housemates five months ago when we moved in together, which is kind of a backwards way of doing relationships. It has definitely led to uncomfortable moments navigating conflict, conversations about privilege and oppression, talking about our feelings, crying in front of each other, and over-sharing. Often, though, this discomfort has led to closeness.
6. Do your chores, especially your dishes.
Some of you who, like me, aren’t always on top of all those cleaning things might be thinking: Chores! Dishes! What’s the big deal? Some of you who are on top of all those cleaning things might be thinking: Yes! Please, do your dishes and chores! Pulling your weight around the house goes a long way. It builds trust instead of resentment. For those of you who care about cleanliness, try to be patient. If you don’t personally care about cleanliness, think of it as an opportunity to love your housemates in tangible ways.
7. Dream big and practice forgiveness.
Our vows are definitely idealistic, but they represent this wonderful vision of what we want life together to be like. However, in our vows, we write about forgiveness and we recognize that we are probably going to utterly fail at all of these vows at some point. Learning how to both envision a better way of being in the world and forgiving others and myself has been invaluable.
If you go into community life with the willingness to be vulnerable, put in hard work, and share your time and gifts, it will transform you.
About Our Contributor
Sarah Jordan lives in Chicago, working for CROSSwalk, the anti-gun violence initiative of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. She loves cooking and sharing food with people and has recently discovered liturgy as her creative medium. She graduated from Davidson College in 2013 with a degree in religion and hopes to start seminary in 2014.