When I first heard the phrases ‘living communally’ and ‘intentional community’, my interest was piqued. Those phrases have always made me think of two words: community and belonging. Both of those words have been buzzwords for quite a long time, but before that, they were simply two words that meant a lot to me, since they highlighted what I really wanted: connection and being seen.
One of the charms of life at Jesus People is that we live very closely together. We have the opportunity to really see what goes on with each other. Living communally is an unconventional way of life. It demands a higher level of connection than if you lived in a house of your own. It pushes you to be more. More communicative, kind, generous. Nestled next to the commitment of living communally is the responsibility of bearing witness to your neighbor. The idea of bearing witness to a group of people that were once strangers is a beautiful sentiment, but can be incredibly challenging to live out. In exchange for the work that bearing witness requires of community members, our lives are engaged, our bodies are at peace as we get to navigate what life throws at us together. As we bear witness to each other daily, we are showing to us and other around us, that people are worth the work.
I have found that all the attention to each other doesn’t exclude us from challenging circumstances, most of which are outside of our control. I often think back to my first days of trying to understand the ways of community, I would catch myself wondering if this way of life could possibly be real life. The environment felt magical, this space that prioritized grace, forgiveness, trust, mercy and hope, among other things. I often witnessed other people accepting care. I saw community members delving into vulnerable conversations, with the hopes that growth was just around the corner. What I witnessed made me happy, more confident about my willingness to dive in. What would come was that over time living so closely opened up my own insecurities, sin, annoyances that interrupted the cozy, manufactured scenes of community in my head to a level I did not anticipate. As with anything, there are times that do not feel like a dream, but just feel like all the responsibility of community living.
Living closely leaves room for unexpected happenings and I believe that is the hardest part of living in community for me. I would prefer that my life follow a well-written script, that there are no quick turns that leave me scrambling for a map. In a perfect world, there is no space for the unknown to casually show up and make a mess of my perfectly curated world. But life isn’t like that, it’s more like a canvas and suddenly you notice that there’s a color on there that you didn’t think you’d ever see in your painting, but somehow makes the picture better.
As a member of Jesus People for nearly a decade, I have witnessed a lot of change. Changes in myself, changes in my workplace, in the community through members shifting in and out. I constantly remind myself that though every day is different, the mission of living communally is not an ever shifting thread. Once I hit a groove living communally, which took several years, I looked around and surveyed my lifestyle. I became aware that even with the struggles I have experienced, I still was able to see and appreciate the togetherness, joy, and connection that danced together in community. What I sought after and valued was perfectly meshed together. Experiencing these qualities makes me want to stay engaged in a lifestyle that continues to serve me, regardless of the tough moments that community life offers.
If I could bottle up the delightfulness of community as it is designed to be, I would. My favorite part of community is to be able to have the gift of walking into my home and my workplace feeling seen, loved and honored as the person I am. I love that I feel like I can be myself and when I hit my own limitations, I still am seen in the same ways I was previously. Receiving the space that community offers me to be my own true, evolving self is rare. I wouldn’t be the person I am in community without the support of my co-workers; they helped me mold me into the person I am, without question. There is such freedom in the way we live our lives and I don’t take it for granted. I look forward to more time to delve deep into who God has meant me to be alongside this beautiful, supportive, absolutely life-changing community.
Tressa hails from northern Michigan and has lived at Jesus People for eight years. She is an international adoptee, a receptionist for Cornerstone Community Outreach and someone who loves to dive deep in life giving friendships. She is an Enneagram 4 with a 3 wing and prides in being a writer, creative person and a welcoming presence.