Last night’s event was interesting. My host was Reba Place Fellowship, and all but one of the attendees was from that community. Not only was this preaching to the choir; it was perhaps preaching to the pastors. Reba Place has been cooperating for more than 50 years. Half a century. They started in the Eisenhower era and they are still at it.
The community has about 50 core members who live in two clusters of buildings on the North Side and in Evanston, each of which is affiliated with a neighborhood church. They also have several businesses, including a property management company that owns about 200 units of affordable housing, including their own.
They run a bike repair shop called the Recyclery, Plain and Simple Furniture selling Amish furniture from northern Indiana, and an artist cooperative called Community Creations. They also run a development corporation and a new organization called RebaWorks, which is creating jobs in the neighborhood.
But one of my favorite parts of the community, which totally snuck up on me because it isn’t on their web page, is that about 20 years ago they planted a rural community in Tiskilwa, Illinois, called Plow Creek. This community, which is affiliated with a Mennonite church, describes itself as something like a Christian kibbutz. A few years ago, they started a CSA that delivers 50 shares to the urban communities. I think that the best part of the conversation was how amused my hosts were at my childlike enthusiasm for what they have done. They’ve been doing it for so long it just feels normal to them.
One of the big flaws of my book is that it only gives brief treatment to projects that each represent years (or decades) of work by hundreds (or thousands, or even millions) of people. Reba Place wasn’t even mentioned, as I generally stuck to single examples when I found similar projects, and when I was doing the research I figured that one Chicago example was enough (as it turns out, there were seven Christian intentional communities in town between 10 & 15 years ago, and they met regularly.
I can’t even begin to do these works justice, and have often thought that a book could be written about each of them; that is certainly true of Reba Place. The good news here is that someone already wrote the book about Reba. Several of them.
Today I went a visiting. My first stop was the Christian Community Development Association, where I had a couple of really great meetings. I am very excited about continuing the conversations started today, as it seems like we’ve got a lot to talk about. They do institutes with local hosts all over the country, and this October their annual conference will be in Cincinnati.
After lunch at a pizza joint that was started as a tithe by a local chain (because it is in a neighborhood that doesn’t attract those seeking profit) and staffed by ex-prisoners, I headed to Jesus People USA. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and it was great to see the place. The main community building is an old 10-story hotel that has really cool architecture that has been scuffed up considerably by decades of community life.
I was struck by a strange mixture of cool and uncool. On the one hand, the rooms that I saw were furnished in beautiful but simple ways, with lots of books, sacred art, butterfly displays, and everything. I met several people who had been there for a long time, and they all looked at least a decade younger than their actual age. On the other hand, it was a grungy place, with sort of a hostel vibe and tons of cables hanging from the ceilings. And there were elderly people hanging out in the lobby, a couple of whom were in wheelchairs. The top three floors are all senior housing,
I had a great long chat with Jon Trott (one of the old-timers, with 32 years under his belt) and found out that there have been several attempts to write books about the thing, but nobody has been able to capture it. His own attempt (which fizzled out about 1989) is online. I didn’t ask how that document got digitized, but now I’m wondering.
Tonight I had dinner with a couple of the folks from North American Students of Cooperation, which just moved its offices to Chicago from Michigan. As it turns out, one of them is booked on the same train as I am tomorrow morning. So I suppose we’ll have more time to talk then.
It was an action-packed 36 hours in Chicago. I had to skip visits to the South Side for a couple of housing co-ops and the Seminary Co-op Bookstores, and while on the train I passed right on by Hermitage Manor Cooperative, which looked like it was located on a church property of some sort. I am going to have to investigate that when I come back, soon.