Franklinton Community

Ben Norton, Pioneer minister for Kingswood, Hull, describes an intentional community for young adults in the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

When I travelled to Ohio earlier this year, I met Jed Dearing – the project leader for the Confluence Episcopal Service Corps Program hosted by St John's Episcopal Church in Franklinton. Jed showed me around the area and told me of some of the amazingly creative missional enterprises they are involved with as a community.

Franklinton is a neighbourhood immediately west of downtown Columbus, Ohio's largest city. Jed and a group of friends moved there a few years ago with the intention of wanting to live out the gospel incarnationally. They soon found that St John's Episcopal Church was already doing so through a ministry called 'Street Church', a weekly Eucharistic service out on the street for the homeless communities in the area.

Through getting to know people at this service, Jed and his friends soon found that there were many needs they could begin to address. For instance, not many people in their community could afford cars and the bus routes where not always helpful so many people either didn't travel or, if they did, they rode bikes. This meant two things; the only shops nearby were corner shops that did not sell fresh food but rather sold crisps and sweets – so the diet of the local community was predominately unhealthy; the bicycles that people were using were not always safe.

Out of these issues, two projects have developed:

  • Franklinton Cycle Works: This is a project where the local community can come and learn how to fix their own bikes or can choose to fix a shop bike. The time given is added up as store credit which can then be used to buy a bike from the project.
  • Franklinton Gardens: Volunteers give their time to create an urban farm right in the centre of the community, using plots of land where houses once stood and turning the ground in to a place to grow fresh crops that are then sold in the local area.

Franklinton - working

Confluence is hosted by St. John's Episcopal Church in partnership with the Diocese of Southern Ohio and the Episcopal Service Corps. Confluence is a volunteer corps program for recent college graduates or young adults who commit to a year of spiritual formation, vocational discernment, social justice and intentional community.

The interns live in intentional community, sharing the Hospitality House in Franklinton. The Hospitality House has a long history of being open and available for the community. The house was repaired, repainted, and refurbished during the summer of 2013 to provide a peaceful home as the centre of community life for the Confluence volunteers who aim to:

  • spend a year in intentional community learning to live simply and sustainably in a home with four others;
  • go deep into vocational discernment working with a leading social service organization doing dynamic work on the margins;
  • enact social justice through volunteering with neighbourhood non-profit organisations;
  • pursue spiritual formation through contemplative practices with housemates, and worship with the homeless at 'Street Church'.

Franklinton - prayer

A Moveable Feast

Rev Jane Gerdsen, Missioner for fresh expressions in the Diocese of southern Ohio, tells of A Moveable Feast in Cincinnati.

It's a Wednesday night at 6.30pm and about 25 mostly young adults are gathered in a room in the back of a coffee shop, bringing dishes to share and talking informally in groups.

After a blessing for the food, we sit around a couple of tables to discuss hospitality: when have you been a host and when have you hosted others? We share stories of inviting friends to see us, of being welcomed into someone's home as a stranger, and wonder together what hospitality looks, tastes, and smells like. Following the dinner conversations, we gather in a circle and share what we had heard while at the table together.

We remember that God shows up in the most unexpected places, inviting us to feast on His word and presence in community – around the dinner table, in a coffee shop or in the sanctuary of an old church. We realise that the act of being the church, God’s community in our time, isn't limited to a place, or a day or a time – but is a way of life.

This is a Moveable Feast, an informal gathering to discuss God, spirituality, religion, faith, life, work, and culture. These gatherings can take place in people's homes, pubs, coffee shops, parks, studios, or other locations. Moveable Feast conversations are a place to ask questions and explore our faith lives in community.

Moveable Feast - tableIn collaboration with the Rev Beth Turner from the Diocese of Western North Carolina – who created and is currently hosting several feast communities in that diocese – we are experimenting and adapting their model for use here in southern Ohio. Beth's vision was for Eucharistic communities of practice, in her case aimed at young adults, but hosted by churches or older adults in their homes or other community gathering places. She agreed that I might try to host some feasts in Ohio.

My first purpose was also to meet the needs of young adults I knew or met who were dissatisfied with church community. We had tried a few different things, emergent worship, pub theology, something I called a Sinner Dinner at a local YMCA but it seemed that:

  • pub theology limited us to people who liked to drink and wanted intellectual conversation;
  • a worship group self-selected around people who were drawn to creative worship but lacked a community building conversation piece.

Since we started in September last year we have hosted in different locations each time. The feasts have tended to be hosted by me as the missioner and I have partnered with a young adult to think of a location, theme, and how to structure the conversation.

But it is important to say that while created with – and for – young adults, A Moveable Feast is for all who are seeking a deeper relationship with God. Everyone is invited to participate and we hope the feasts will be intentionally intergenerational because Moveable Feasts hope to create 'communities of practice' and places for imagining a new way to be church.

So far our first few feast dinners have taken place in Cincinnati, but we are looking to find partners who would be interested in hosting a feast community in other places around the diocese. Feasts could be sponsored by a parish or a small group, but they are especially intended to foster community with people who are currently unaffiliated with a traditional church community.  The feasts are – at their simplest level – a dinner and conversation but they are also intentionally sacramental Eucharistic communities exploring how to engage God’s mission in the world.

Moveable Feast - groupBeth and I see these feast communities as possibly growing into 'church' or Christian 'communities of practice' (which is the language I have been using to hold space for people for whom church is problematic).  Some of our young adults are engaged in 'traditional church communities' but come to the feasts for the conversation and sense of community. We also have people who don't go to any church and probably won't. So, in that way, they are church in their own right.

We have been meeting once a month but I dream that they might meet more frequently. Many of our people are in multiple circles of relationships – intentional communities, neo-monastics, Bible study in a coffee shop, an emergent worship cohort, or other small groups. So this is currently filling one piece of a broader picture of fresh expressions. We will see what happens as to whether there is need or desire for these communities to grow or change going forward.

Moveable Feasts allow us to honour the sacramental nature of our tradition but they feel like dinner with friends. They have also pushed people to see 'church' as something that could happen anywhere not just in holy places. I think the conversation of consequence around a shared meal seems to fit a longing that hadn't been tapped by other groups.

At the moment I think we seem to be drawing de-churched people or people who attend church irregularly or are not entirely satisfied with their church communities for some reason. I hope that our fresh expression's work will result in us building relationships with people who have no connection to church at all. I feel the Spirit slowly pulling us deeper in that direction.