I was around when the Spirit was pulling those who would become founders of The Simple Way together. It was 1995, and more than ten homeless families had taken over a closed church in North Philadelphia as winter approached as a place to live. The juxtaposition of coming Christian celebrations; available, vacant space unused by the Church; and families with small children seeking shelter was haunting. No one could shake the sense that Jesus was at everyone’s shoulder, watching what the Gospel meant to those of us who said we followed it. No one could forget the refugee child born in a stable because his family was not given shelter.
Especially some students at Eastern College who kept coming in to support, dwell with, and provision these families. When they graduated, six of them would found The Simple Way as a ministry of presence in one beautiful neighborhood that had its struggles.
But it was almost 12 years before I joined that group. I came to help envision and to edit CONSPIRE! magazine. We saw all the amazing intentional Christian communities springing up in different places and imagined a publication that would tell stories of what we were learning, connect some of these communities, and empower people in the vocation of building community.
I loved the work, very similar in vision to the writing work I had done at The Other Side magazine for 20 years prior. I loved the neighborhood also. But after five years, I realized it was time to launch a new dream, which became the Vine and Fig Tree community. Located in my own Germantown/Nicetown neighborhood, where I have lived for 30 years, it was also an intentional faith community based on a cohousing model, where five families (16 people) share one property, each family in their own unit.
Our commitments are environmental and land-living, regular prayer, celebration, hospitality, and supporting each other as we work in the world for justice. At this time, we are half adults and half kids. We have a loose common life together and every year, things shift. Our hope is to model an affordable housing situation that supports people over time, as well as to experiment with different models of community that might accommodate families as easily as individuals.
We are only three years in now, and I know that the dance of the Spirit has endless permutations. This current form will also shift. Sometimes this is unsettling. As for most of us, change is sometimes disconcerting to me. The wonderful thing is this: God gives each of us vision. God gives each of us a passion for justice. If, through the power of the Spirit, we can hold all things lightly; if we can offer up even our most precious thing ”security, family, ego” to God, anything can happen. So travel lightly, for the long haul.
I love this end of a poem by German poet Ranier Maria Rilke:
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
May we all let everything happen to us.
– Dee Dee Risher