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by Sara

The Temple House Community

June 8, 2015 in Featured Posts, Parish Stories

A few years ago, The Salvation Army acquired six houses in a struggling St. Louis neighborhood. The houses were initially used for transitional housing, but the federal funding ended and the houses remained.

Unwilling to abandon six homes in an area where occupancy rates were already plummeting, someone had an idea. What if we filled these houses with students and young professionals who would serve in the neighborhood in exchange for housing?

The result, while good, was essentially an Americorps type program. Our community lacked depth and a real sense of mission in our neighborhood.

I moved to St Louis about 18 months ago to establish the Urban Mission Center and to guide Temple Houses into deeper commitment to each other and to our community. The process has been slow, sometimes awkward, and often hard. But we’re beginning to recognize the formation of authentic community.

We’ve a long road ahead, but the journey is sweet.

“God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”

1 Corinthians 3:17

by Andy

The Inclusive Front Yard

April 17, 2015 in Featured Posts, Uncategorized

Like most yards in our neighborhood, we have a public sidewalk in front with either grass or a garden bed with shrubs marking the line of our property. It’s quite clear what’s “mine” and what’s public. People walk their dogs through the neighborhood but know it’s a “no, no” to let your dog do its business in the middle of someone’s property. We walk by and admire what each other has done, but these are not yards to really stop and enjoy. While I’ve yet to see a “Keep off the Grass!” sign in our neighborhood, neither are front yards an invitation to community.

I was first stimulated to think about this when I learned about Springwater Community and the “little free libraries” dotting the Lents neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Here, in front yards, was an invitation to stop…to open a tiny door and either leave or take a book. This simple expression of community, of sharing, really began to open my eyes to front yard possibilities!

The Design

Last fall we gathered a whole lot of plain cardboard boxes, flattened them out and covered all the grass in the front yard. My folks had just removed a couple of dead trees from their yard and the chips from all the branches provided a nice thick mulch over the cardboard. It sat this way over the winter as I pondered and prayed about what it could become.

God was challenging me to explore what it would mean to live more fully into the plans and purposes of God every day of the year, right in my neighborhood. What would it look like to design our front yard with God and neighbor in mind?

And that’s where my vision for the front yard was transformed. As I sat looking out over the yard, I began to ask questions like:

  • What does our front yard reveal about what we value?
  • How do front yards create barriers to community?
  • As we walk through our neighborhood, what inspires us about other people’s front yards? Why?
  • Are there front yards that make us feel excluded or unwelcome? What are the elements that provoke those feelings?
  • Are there front yards that feel more inviting? Why?


What do we value? Personally, I know I need solitude. our backyard is a place of prayer and deep reflection. Others are welcome there, but usually only by invitation. But I also value community. Over the years I’ve had a lot of opinions about what community is, or should be. It’s easy to let our opinions run away with me until “community” becomes some collection of people who conform to my standards and ideals. But that’s not community.

Community comes to us on a multitude of terms. My involvement helps shape it, but so does the involvement of each of the others who participate. Community is not my backyard sanctuary where I’ve pre-defined the conditions. Community is often messy, welcoming of the other right where they are. What would that kind of community look like in my front yard?


We began exploring what it would look like to have an inviting space. We don’t want this to be a space people feel they must be personally invited into, we want this to be a place that draws people in. A space that says “Welcome”. Whether we are in the front yard or not, we want people to feel this is a place of rest, of quiet conversation, reflection, and community.

Although we have only 40 feet of front yard garden space, we created two paths from the sidewalk into the garden. The paths fan out at the sidewalk, a kind of visual invitation to venture in. Paths radiate in waves like rays from the sun. Nothing is straight, but flowing and natural. We didn’t want it to feel like a formal garden but a place to casually explore.


The design

Soon we added a bench next to a micro-library along one of the paths – an invitation to come in, to sit, to share. We also have plans to include a you-pick tea garden with a variety of mints, lemon balm, and herbs for the taking. Later we may even add vegetables and flowers to share.

A Grand Experiment

This is really all a grand experiment. We don’t know where it will lead. Already God has touched and challenged us to rethink what it means to love God and love others in the context of our landscape. As we’ve explored what can be done, I’ve found myself more open to how this all applies outside the confines of our own yard. Curious neighbors have stopped by to find out what we’re up to, which has led to some wonderful conversations and new ideas for the space. While talking with our neighbor to the south, we were inspired to purchase together two espalier apple trees to plant on the border between our yards. Soon we’ll be sharing the fruit of friendship!

And really, as I reflect on what God is cultivating in us through this redesign of physical space, I’m realizing that the cultivation and nurture of friendship is not limited to a garden or a yard but is a challenge to each of us whether we live in urban centers, suburbs, or way out in the country. Perhaps the most authentic of gardens are the ones that break down the barriers between us and them, and mine and yours. And maybe the garden is simply a metaphor to encourage us to more intentionally cultivate community from the barren soil of alienation and loneliness and to nurture friendship from soils contaminated with fear and suspicion.

by Paul

Theaster Gates: How to revive a neighborhood: with imagination, beauty and art

April 4, 2015 in Featured Posts, Uncategorized

Parish Collective Co-Director Tim Soerens has long followed the wonderful work and thought of Theaster Gates. Don’t miss this Ted Talk and the powerful Q&A at the end. 

“Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling, wanted to do something about the sorry state of his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. So he did, transforming abandoned buildings to create community hubs that connect and inspire those who still live there (and draw in those who don’t). In this passionate talk, Gates describes his efforts to build a “miniature Versailles” in Chicago, and he shares his fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.”

by Brandon

Chilly Chili Cook-Off!

February 1, 2014 in Featured Posts

Last night, in the middle of winter, a couple dozen neighbors in lower Lents did a walk-about tour among six houses to taste everyone’s home-made chili. What fun! Everyone had scorecards and there was a tallying of votes by the end. Highlights included Leigh’s white bean and rabbit chili and, though I didn’t get to try it, Jacob’s All-Texas chili. I enjoyed that we all got to visit the homes of such different folks: a long-time resident, newlyweds new to the ‘hood, and a couple that’s squatting in a long-abandoned (and therefore candlelit) house.

All in all it was like rapid-fire hospitality. Really fun!

by Mark

How Food Can Bring Us Together

November 4, 2013 in Featured Posts, Uncategorized

Themes: Food, Local Economy, Cooperative Economics

Chris Smith and Englewood Christian Church have struggle with living in what they call a food desert in their neighborhood.  A food desert is a place where not a lot of healthy food options are available.  So they came together and formed an Indy Food Co-Op called Pogue’s Run Grocer.  This is the first community-owned grocery store in Indianapolis, which started in 2010.  Since they opened several years ago, the neighborhood has found some sense of relational connection in eating healthier.  The store sells everything they have affordable, organic and local.  The need for a co-op was great in Englewood after other grocery stores pulled out and left because the local economy was not doing well.  So Englewood Christian Church wanted to respond to their local economy crisis with a solution for more food options.  They didn’t want to just leave the parish to shop somewhere else.  They wanted their place to help them sustain life through good food that would nurture their bodies.


Pogue’s Run Grocer has been one of the best environments to run into neighbors spontaneously.  One day someone may be shopping for affordable, local, organic food and they may see many people who they know.  So this so-op is much more than a grocery store, it is a way for the people of Englewood to connect with each other through a basic need of life, food and eating.  Somehow food has brought the Englewood Christian Church into greater integration within their parish.  And it all started with responding to a real need in actual everyday life in the place that they inhabit together.


The food of Pogue’s Run Grocer has been a sacrament of everyday life in the community.  Neighbors are more content to live in a place that is no longer labeled a food desert.  Providing more food options has unleashed the imagination of Englewood Christian Church for a greater spiritual growth together through celebrating life by the food they partake in.  Many people from the neighborhood live within walking distance to the store and this makes life a little easier.  Much collaborative work has been done around the store which builds community where others feel more belonging and purpose.


Pogue’s Run Grocer is an example of creative solutions to complex problems.  The Englewood Christian Church has had an influence in bringing some food security to their context where it seemed there was none.  Most of the citizens of that place rejoice that a simple thing like food can make their lives more whole as they see how the sharing of life through food can bring us together.  Englewood is learning that they cannot live without food and they cannot live without one another in relationship.

by Mark

Raising Children in an Urban Neighborhood

November 3, 2013 in Featured Posts, Uncategorized

Themes: Raising Children, Urban Context, Poverty and Homelessness


Christiana Chase Rice is a part of NieuCommunities in the neighborhood of Golden Hill, San Diego.  She has two daughters ages three and five.  Their names are Anika and Naomi.  She has been exploring what it looks like to raise her daughters within an urban context.  Christiana is constantly trying to understand the story of her neighborhood and realizes that the poor are a part of that story.  In Golden Hill, there is a lot of homelessness.  The homeless usually live in Golden Hill for a very long time and are not that transient compared to others who live there.  She invites them into her home sometimes and sees them in alley ways and public parks.  She is teaching her daughters to see the poor as real people.  As that is what she is practicing herself.

One day when Christiana and her daughters were walking to the park they saw Raymond, a homeless man who had lived in the neighborhood for twenty eight years with an addiction to drugs and alcohol.  They had gotten to know him a bit throughout the years and became fairly comfortable interacting with him on a regular basis.  So as soon as one of Christiana’s daughters saw him that day she ran up to him in excitement calling out to him in friendship.  She saw a human instead of an addict, just what her mom had taught her.  Christiana got a little nervous, not knowing if Raymond had been drinking that day.


As the little girl ran up to Raymond, he picked her up and held her.  Christiana kind of got frightened at first and then relaxed a bit.  It was a moment of awe and wonder, but also a moment of horror.  Christiana had to see the human person Raymond was and let this all happen trusting that her daughter would be fine.  Raymond held Christiana’s daughter in his arms for several minutes.  As he was holding her she gave him a big hug and then he put her down.  This was the first time that Raymond had received a hug from a child in a long time.  Raymond had been touched by a child out of love.  This made him feel like he was human again in the midst of all the shame and rejection he had experienced in his life.  After this experience they all spent some time together talking, laughing and playing at the park.  Christiana could tell that Raymond was having one of the best days he had experienced in a long time.  He didn’t have to escape his pain in the moment.


Christiana saw that day how her daughter reinforced her passion for seeing the homeless as human.  It all came so unexpected to her.  It snuck up on her so mysteriously.  But God has been teaching Christiana to raise her children in an urban neighborhood with courage.  She is learning not to fear what the cultural narratives are telling her about the “safety” and “comfort” of raising children in the suburbs.  Christiana feels that her girls will be more authentic as they grow up within a diverse urban context in everyday life.

by Mark

Creating Collaboration Together in the Parish

November 3, 2013 in Featured Posts, Uncategorized

Themes: Collaboration, Partnership, Poverty, Hospitality


Mark Votava moved to the neighborhood of Downtown Tacoma, Washington about nine years ago to become a part of the Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship.  His life has been about exploring a way of life about becoming a local practitioner of relational care within the parish in which he shares life together with others in.  After living in Downtown Tacoma for the first five years or so, Mark was discovering that Downtown Tacoma has a lot of poverty in it.  At first, he did not know much about being in relationship with others who have addictions, mental illnesses or might be in a situation of homelessness.  But he soon became interested in becoming friends with these kinds of people who seemed so “different” to him.  He started to learn about all the organizations in his neighborhood that worked with others in poverty.


The Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship was looking at partnering with existing organizations in the parish who had already been there for many years caring for people in their local context rather than starting something new.  So Mark soon became aware of the Tacoma Catholic Worker in which he was living just three or four blocks away from.  He started to learn about the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day, by reading a bunch of books about her.  The writings of Dorothy Day inspired Mark to see Christ in the poor among him.  Mark became friends with his neighbors, the Tacoma Catholic Workers, and eventually moved into one of their hospitality houses called the Guadalupe House.  He learned that they have eight houses within a block of each other and share a big community garden together.  The Tacoma Catholic Worker has been in Downtown Tacoma for the past twenty five years.  One of the founders is an eighty four year old  Jesuit priest who has a deep love for those with mental illnesses.  At first, this was odd for Mark to be in relationship with those who are much older than him and who have mental illnesses.  But it gave his life a deeper sense of purpose to be in relationship with the poor of his neighborhood.


The Tacoma Catholic worker, as Mark describes it, is an urban village that practices hospitality to the poor, marginalized and oppressed in the neighborhood.  They strives to be merciful to the poor through caring for their basic needs like providing food, clothing, housing and genuine care through relationship.  Mark has been living in community with the Tacoma Catholic workers now for the past three years.  He has been learning that he cannot escape the poverty that is around him and most learn to be shaped by it through all the people he shares life with.  In a society that teaches us to run from poverty this can be hard at times, but the experience of practicing seeing Christ in the poor is very life-giving and powerful.  Although listening to the poor can be frightening, it can also show us the life of Jesus among us in many ways.  Mark is learning not to be so afraid of the poor.  He is learning to see his commonalities with them instead of just his differences.


Mark is learning how to better share life with others through being a part of the Tacoma Catholic Worker and the Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship simultaneously.  He doesn’t see these as two communities, but as one parish working together.  The Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship has found much collaboration with the Tacoma Catholic Worker over the past several years because they are both becoming neighbors and friends together in the same parish.  The Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship is slowly becoming mentored by this relationship with the Tacoma Catholic Worker where so many intersections have been happening.  They are currently renovating a neighborhood common space together in the back yard of the Guadalupe House, partnering on supporting one another in hospitality to the poor and have formed a group called the Madrinas, who are made up of women seeking to care for the common good of the neighborhood together.

by Mark

The Liberation of Walking More

November 2, 2013 in Featured Posts, Uncategorized

Themes: Walking, Relational Connection, Simplicity, Slowing Down


Mark Votava who is a part of an innovative local church called the Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship recently sold his car this past summer because he wanted to live more locally and walk more.  This has been very liberating for Mark as he has found a way to slow down and connect with his parish each day through walking.  Mark has now centered his life on being faithfully present through walking in solidarity with his neighborhood.  Simplifying his life in this way has led Mark to save money by not having to dedicate income to pay for insurance, gas and repairs.  This frees him to work less hours so that he can be more present relationally to his neighbors.  He has saved hundreds of dollars in the process of not having a car and gets way more exercise daily.  Mark always felt the pull on him sitting in an isolated car by himself driving through the neighborhood or on the freeway to get him places far away from his local context.  Mark went through an extensive discernment about experimenting with living without his own motorized form of transportation and he doesn’t miss his car that much.


The Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship is based on a local way of life in the parish where others live in proximity, so walking actually becomes a core spiritual practice in  life together.  Mark has reimagined walking as a form of what he calls an on-the-ground practice based theology where it puts him in contact with his neighbors more often in everyday life.  And this is where his spirituality takes place with God through his neighbors.  When Mark walks down some of the streets in Downtown Tacoma, he might run into up to five or ten people on any given day.  It is healing to walk down the street and people recognize you, acknowledge you and chat with you.  Mark is becoming known more in his parish because of his persistence to walk places rather than drive.  He is coming to understand the spirituality of walking.


One day Mark was walking in the neighborhood on an especially nice, sunny day in Tacoma.  Sometimes Mark does this as a form of reflection with no apparent destination in mind, but just to be outside and appreciate the beauty of it all.  He happened to run into his friend Matt who works in the neighborhood and was taking a stroll on his break.  So they walked together around a public park in the neighborhood enjoying each others conversation.  On their walk through the park, Mark greets another friend Nancy and passes another friend Peter who happen to be passing by.  He also encounters Dotti on the sidewalk randomly.  He walks past the bakery where some friends Liz and Sean work to say hi.  Mark might pass by some neighbors that he doesn’t really know and just says hello anyway in the hope of maybe getting to know them better.  This is a typical day for Mark where sometimes he sees more people than other days, but he is cultivating a habit of seeing others in his neighborhood through walking in the parish.


Walking has transformed Mark’s way of life where this practice is shaping him to have the imagination to love his neighbors as Jesus taught us.  Mark is understanding that walking can actually be a form of relational solidarity with others in their pain and joy in life.  Walking creates the environment for awareness of our neighbors in the place that we live.  Mark is discovering that when we walk we slow down to see what is hard to see in our cars.  We see the built environment more, we see other people’s faces, we see the birds flying in our neighborhood, we see the trees, we feel the sun and rain on our faces.  We experience so much of the texture of life when we simply walk.  It is noticed and valued.  We become more mindful relationally and begin to enjoy life more.

by pcadmin

Brueggemann, Block, McKnight and the Abundant Communities Initiative with Inhabit Presenter Howard Lawrence

November 2, 2013 in Featured Posts, Uncategorized

Brueggemann, Block, and McKnight would seem to be an unlikely trio of friends. Each has grown in renown around very unique themes – Walter Brueggemann an Old Testament Theologian, Peter Block an Organizational Consultant, and John McKnight a Community Organizer. Yet the theme of neighborhood transformation is bringing them all together in an odd and beautiful collaboration.The Inhabit Conference Organizers have long been students of each of the three in their separate work, and are all the more thrilled to find ways to get behind their growing friendship.  Parish Collective Co-Founder Tim Soerens has been working with Travis Reed from The Work of the People on a series of interviews with Peter Block and Walter Brueggemann.  Here is just a snippet from an early interview with Brueggemann where Tim asks him about his new understanding of neighborhood versus empire (much more to come).Most recently, several of the Inhabit Conference team joined together with Peter Block at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology to discuss partnership and new ways to carry on the legacy and grow the library of resources on behalf of these three mentors along with all the work of The Abundant Community and Asset-Based Community Development.

Howard Lawrence

Howard Lawrence (Parish Collective Canada) steered much of the dialogue toward the possibility of an Abundant Communities Initiative. Between a series of phone calls and emails with Brueggemann, McKnight and Block, and many meetings with the City of Edmonton, Howard has begun to roll out an innovative adaptation of the Abundant Communities process, with a beta group right in his own Highlands Neighbourhood. Later it will scale to adopting neighborhoods throughout Edmonton and potentially beyond. Watch the Global Edmonton News or read the Edmonton Journal.