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Christian communities try "whole-life faith"
Seattle Times staff reporter
In South Seattle, about a dozen young people have been busy planting trees, participating in neighborhood cleanups and attending nearby churches.
A year ago, none of them lived there. What motivated the en masse move to the area last summer was their faith.
All are members, or friends of members, of Quest Church, located in Seattle's Interbay neighborhood farther north. About a year ago, church members decided they wanted to get a deeper understanding of race and class issues. What better way to do that, they thought, than to live in neighborhoods that are more diverse racially and economically.
The Quest group is one of several local Christian groups trying different ways of creating communities where they can live out their faith values.
Some share one house with common times for prayers and meals. Others meet for meals and spiritual rituals, or live in a single neighborhood. All have similar intent: to integrate their faith more fully into their daily lives, create deeper personal relationships, and participate in serving their neighborhoods.
In addition to the Quest group, Bremerton's Bartimaeus Cohousing Community will soon house about 25 families in condos on a seven-acre complex. A few members of Church of the Apostles in the Fremont neighborhood share a house. At Monkfish Abbey in Wallingford, people drop by for Thursday suppers but attend different churches on Sundays.
• Quest Church: www.seattlequest.org
• Mustard Seed Associates: www.msainfo.org
• Bartimaeus Cohousing Community: www.bartcommunity.org
• Church of the Apostles: www.apostleschurch.org
• Monkfish Abbey: www.monkfish-abbey.org
• The Simple Way: www.thesimpleway.org
Of course, living in a Christian community is not a new idea. Religious orders and communities have existed for centuries, as have communities of laypeople such as those serving with the Jesuit or Lutheran Volunteer Corps.
But it appears the formation of new Christian living communities is on the upswing, particularly among younger evangelicals who are not rigid about doctrines or denominational lines.
Some are considered part of a nascent movement among younger Christians called "the new monasticism," which emphasizes community, common worship and activities, and helping the poor.
They incorporate spiritual practices from traditional Christian monastic communities to help nurture their faith and center their lives around doing God's work. They draw inspiration from practices such as lectio divina — a slow, contemplative reading of Scripture as a form of prayer — and from orders such as the Franciscans, who emphasize serving the needy in one's own area.
They are seeking "a whole-life faith, not just an add-on devotional to their suburban, professional life," said Tom Sine, co-founder of Seattle-based Mustard Seed Associates, which tries to come up with creative ways churches can respond to a changing culture.
The organization is sponsoring a conference this weekend that includes discussion of such Christian communities. Part of the growth is attributable to simple economics: It's less expensive to live together in cities like Seattle. Part of it might also be simply because more people are now living in the Northwest.
"New forms" emerge
Another factor is people exploring different forms of religious organization, said Patricia O'Connell Killen, chairwoman of the religion department at Pacific Lutheran University.
"In the history of Christianity, whenever there are large stresses and changes going on in the broader social political order, new forms of religious life emerge," she said.
"The forms of religious organization that dominated for the last 400-plus years no longer are as satisfying or as meaningful because those forms of organization in some way were rooted to a particular place."
For members of the Quest group, that search for a meaningful form led to them to live in houses and apartments in the Columbia City and Rainier Beach neighborhoods. They meet for Tuesday evening suppers, where they talk not only about their faith but about neighborhood issues.
Some also attend neighborhood churches in addition to going to Quest, which is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. Dan Hauge, a 32-year-old office worker and Quest member, attends Emerald City Bible Fellowship.
"It's important for me to build relationships with people in established churches in Rainier Valley," he said.
"In terms of following Christ, it's very important to be moving outside of my comfort zone. I just see the limitations of my own perspective. My hope is the more I engage in relationships with people who have a different perspective than my own, I will be able to love people better and address issues of justice with a more developed, holistic perspective."
Serving the community
Those moving into Bartimaeus Cohousing Community in Bremerton hope to use their common areas to serve the larger community, perhaps by establishing an auto shop for the neighborhood or a space for community events. Members also have talked about providing a guest unit for people in need, and restoring nearby wetlands.
"The vast majority of members feel to be of service to the community is part of our calling and faith," said John Parsons, 52, a marketing director on Bainbridge Island who will move into Bartimaeus in July. "And we feel we can do it in a better way if we can pool our resources."
The idea originated about four years ago when some members of Bremerton's Evangelical Episcopal Church of St. Barnabus began talking about wanting to live in a Christian community.
"We had a longing for something more than church once a week or even twice a week," said Barbara Buckham, 56, of Bremerton.
Those moving into Bartimaeus range in age from their 20s to their 90s. They include evangelical and mainline Protestant Christians, Catholics and a few non-Christians. They hope to establish common times and places for prayer and meditation, as well as dine together a few times a week.
5 members rent house
At Church of the Apostles (COTA) in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, five members began renting a house together last June.
"We like the idea of COTA as a community, but wanted to go deeper — the idea of living out church as community," said Ray McKechnie, 30, a sign-language interpreter who's now living in the house.
It's still a work in progress. For several months, the housemates met for supper and prayer services on Mondays, and abstained from television or electricity for weeklong periods. But those practices waned with the members' varying, busy schedules.
They're still figuring out "what is our whole rule of life, in a more organic process," McKechnie said.
Figuring out how to live their faith as a "total way of life" rather than just a set of beliefs is something many COTA members are trying to do, the Rev. Karen Ward said.
COTA is part of the "new monastic" movement, with its members trying to follow a way of life that includes daily prayer and observation of the Sabbath.
At Monkfish Abbey in Wallingford, people attend Thursday-night suppers, observe contemplative practices and gather to mark religious holidays and turns of the seasons. Although most who attend are Christian, the group is open to those of other faiths or those who follow no religion.
Such new monastic groups can fulfill a need for family and community, said Rachelle Mee-Chapman, an ordained minister who is the abbess at Monkfish Abbey. "Most new monastic communities are small enough that you can personalize what you need. But you're still in community, so you're not alone."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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