I wanted to be a nun when I grew up.
Not being Catholic is just one of the things that stood in the way of my dream.
But I’ll tell you what appealed to me about religious orders: the fact that the Church and the Order are in charge of looking after incidentals like food and shelter means that the religious get to concentrate all their energies on the work. That’s what I really wanted to do: focus on social justice work without the distraction of climbing a career ladder to pay for food.
This is the same reason that the Jubilee House Community was born.
In the late 1970s, Mike, Kathleen and Sarah were youth workers in the Presbyterian Church and they and their friends spent a lot of time talking about the Church and the ways it was falling short. As Mike puts it, “We thought we could do a better job than the Church was doing.”
They and their friends were all holding down jobs and maintaining separate households and barely making it, and they thought if they all lived together, only a few of them would have work to maintain a shared household and the rest could focus on working with the poor. On moving day, Mike, Kathleen and Sarah were the ones who showed up, and that’s how Jubilee House Community got started. The community grew with volunteers and new members, and in 1987 two sisters Pat and Kathy joined the Community. When the JHC decided to move to Nicaragua in 1994, those are the five adults who came down together with their kids.
I often don’t tell people that I’m part of an intentional community. In part because when I say those words people either imagine me publishing leaflets in a damp basement with a mimeograph machine while my community members teach each other macramé; or they envision covered heads, covered wagons and Fundamentalist compounds.
It’s also because many people just can’t wrap their heads around the idea and so it’s easier not to try to explain. But Community is important to me, so I’ll distill down the explanation:
- We share the Work – running a health clinic, managing organic peanut exports, cooking for 35 people, grocery shopping, changing flat tires…everything.
- We make decisions together.
- We live together – since Paul and I already had our house when we joined, we have two households. Our family comes to the big house for dinner twice a week, we celebrate birthdays and special occasions together.
- We share a common purse: in payment for our work we receive room and board and a small stipend which we pool together, and all our personal expenses come out of that.
- We are people of Faith, though that means different things to all of us.
- We believe in the preferential option for the poor: that the Divine stands on the side of the poor, and therefore we must also.
- We have all been called to work with and on behalf of the poor.
- We worship together once a week, sometimes with a Bible, often with a drink to gladden the soul.
I’ll not say that Community is all wildflowers and group hugs – frankly, we bicker and bitch just like any family does. We get frustrated and argue and stew.
But without my Community, I would be nothing. At my core I am a team player: I work better when I can talk out ideas, when I can share chores, when someone else checks my math. In my cornier moments I see us like the little fish that together form a big fish to scare the shark away – we’re nothing on our own, but together we are formidable, and we can get the job done.
The truth is, I just can’t do it alone. There is so much injustice in this world that on any given day it overwhelms me and knocks me flat. I would have given up this Work long ago if I didn’t have our Visionary Mike to put things in perspective, to tell me it’s time to hang up the gloves for the day, that the work will still be waiting tomorrow; if I didn’t have Kathleen to make comfort food and keep the focus on humility and humanity; if I didn’t have Sarah’s always willing, always capable back to share the heavy load; if I didn’t have Pat to whom I can confess the tragedies I hear and see; if I didn’t have Kathy to keep the cogs and gears turning, to keep me laughing with her jokes; if I didn’t have Paul to easily accomplish all the little things that overwhelm me, to pull me out of myself and take me to places of beauty; if I didn’t have my girls to splash in the pool and snuggle while we read together…if I didn’t have my Community.
Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health in Haiti, says of working with the poor, “what we’re trying to do…is to make common cause with the losers…We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it’s not worth it. So you fight the long defeat.”
I’m proud to say the Jubilee House Community is my team of Losers, and together we are fighting the long defeat. – Becca