In the past week, I’ve ended up cooking with my housemates, a few friends, and visiting family on most nights. With music on, lively conversation, and everyone taking part in preparing the meal, what might otherwise feel like something to get through becomes a beautiful and joyous occasion. Many times in the course of a week, I find myself uninspired to eat, or more inclined to just reheat the most convenient thing out of the refrigerator. This permits me to eat in 15 minutes and go on with my next task. When I take time to share food with friends, though, there’s a tremendous warmth and sense of satisfaction that comes from the process of cooking, eating, and cleaning up after a meal together.
This comfort and joy in community is a big part of why I signed up for LVC in the first place. LVC emphasizes relationships and your local community more than doing a specific type of work or voluntary service. While I’m all about the other LVC core values–working for a just peace, living simply and sustainably, building inclusive community, exploring spirituality–it was really the value of intentional community that brought me to Minnesota, and subsequently to LVC.
I didn’t grow up in Minnesota. While I was studying at Goshen College, all three of my older sisters decided on Saint Paul as a place to put down roots, in order to be in intentional community as siblings after many years living scattered across the continent. Being here also allowed us to help care for our great aunt who has lived in this area for decades. By the time I was wrapping up my undergrad in 2017, I knew I wanted to join in the project of making a family home base in Minneapolis. Although I was also discerning a calling to seminary and training for pastoral ministry, I wasn’t yet ready to jump straight back into full-time academics or to commit to serving a particular congregation for more than a year. With over twenty potential
placements in the Twin Cities with other young Volunteers, LVC seemed like a really good way to build relationships with other young adults also committed to working for justice in this region. At the same time, I’d have easy access to my family for significant events like birthdays, holidays, and various joys and struggles.
I knew there was some risk in signing up to live with a bunch of people I’ve never met before (i.e., what if they don’t know how to clean up a kitchen after themselves?!), especially when I already knew that I could move in and work well as housemates with one of my sisters. That risk for expanded intentional community, however, has paid off in more ways than I can measure. LVC helped match me with a placement that fit my particular vocation and stage of discernment perfectly–more about that here. I’ve had great conversations and wonderful meals with my housemates, and we’ve been able to support each other through joy, grief, and all kinds of wondering about how we want to live our lives.
Meanwhile, it’s only a short hop across the Mississippi to my family, so that I can babysit my nephew, visit my Auntie Marion, and invite my family to community events I’m organizing in Minneapolis. It’s awesome to get to know my housemates’ family and friends who stop by Wellstone house, and I benefit from the relationships that my family has also established in the Twin Cities before I arrived. In turn, I love sharing my new relationships with my family as well as with my housemates. In the time since I first applied to LVC, my parents moved from Nebraska to a new home in Stillwater, a small town just outside of Saint Paul. With my entire immediate family close enough for regular weekend visits (a first since I was six years old), now I can save vacation time to be able to visit friends in other parts of the world (intentional community expanded globally!).
As I’m reflecting on intentional community, it occurs to me how often the inherent value of relationship is de-emphasized or even forgotten in the frenzy to work for big ideals like “justice,” “sustainability,” or “inclusion.” If you read the stories about Jesus, for example, shared food and walks through the neighborhood take a central place in the stories of his life and ministry with his disciples. You have to at least take a minute to eat and drink with your people, to feed body and soul, if you’re ever going to sustain a mission for healing and justice in the world! But it’s all too easy to forget the value of simply cooking and eating together, extending the table a little further each time. In my work as a church builder and community organizer, I see that conversations often end up focused on what we can do together. This often leads to a mindset of scarcity, as it seems like we can’t possibly do enough, especially with so few people.
As a Christian, I subscribe to the idea of a God in relationship with herself, with creation, with humanity–what Christians have historically called the Trinity, an abundance of divine interconnectedness spilling over into the world. My work in LVC and beyond revolves around a shifting emphasis in the question: what could we do together? How do we get together in the first place? Why are so many of us operating alone, struggling to find kindred spirits in our own neighborhoods? In my case, I wonder how it works to claim an authentic Christian spirituality at the same time as I work for justice and sustainability alongside people with a range of identities very different from my own. How can we do our work grounded in the abundance of togetherness rather than the scarcity of isolation? The intersection of LVC and my placement with the United Methodist Church in Minnesota continues to be a fertile place to build broader and deeper community, to keep exploring these questions.
By: Isaiah Friesen, Wellstone House