Potlucks and Intentional Community

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on July 23, 2014 - 11:39am

This past weekend, one of the local intentional communities held an open house for all who were interested in learning more. Intentional communities are something that has always been an interest to some of my friends and I so we thought we would go to learn more.

I was blown away by the beauty of the property, the plans that were in place, but most of all, the warmth of the people there. They were kind, caring, genuine, and the food they prepared was excellent; I had no idea that vegan could taste so good. We sat in a circle in the garden to ask questions and share our thoughts on community. A couple things struck me from this conversation.

One thing that really jumped out at us was that some people at the meeting were coming with some pretty high needs, often times emotional. They were looking for a place where they could feel like they belonged and a group of people who would support them. This intense neediness was off-putting for some of us. To be part of a close community with them would have been more than the group could likely handle or have patience for. The danger is that this could put the community over the tipping point of sustainability, and things could crumble. For me it really highlights how there are different communities for different kinds of people and the specific needs of this community were different from what these individuals were offering.

It was intriguing to see the possibility of an intentional community within the long-time members. You can think about what you want to live like, find others with similar values and actually create it. It is inspiring to see what the SILC group is creating.

One person brought up a point about how regardless of planning, in the community there is going to be conflict. It is a natural human process and it would be naïve to assume that it won’t occur here. He made the counterintuitive point of looking forward to this conflict. Through conflict relationships are deepened and a common goal is better understood. This was an opinion I would not have foreseen but makes a lot of sense to me. If you can resolve conflicts within a community in a restorative fashion you broaden the sense of community and belonging by validating the feelings of all community members. Through discussing this experience later with my father I learned that he had previously lived in an intentional community. When sharing about his experiences he said that he enjoyed living this lifestyle but that conflict did arise. In response to this he indicated that it would be important to set up some type of conflict mediation strategy; something that everyone knows about and is well trained in. This way when something arises people have a universally understood way of stepping in without ruining relationships in the process. One thing that my father suggested that really resonated with us is to not just talk about a conflict mediation strategy but to also do simulations so that people get to practice using it with each other. A “preparation for the inevitable” that benefits the entire community. It was exciting to see that there are lots of different forms that community can take, from a group of friends living in a house (like the way my friend Derek is living now), to a group of families living together (like my father), to a large complex with up to 25 families (like the intentional community we visited). The question we are now wrestling with is what kind of intentional community we want to live in.

After the potluck, we had a conversation about what builds community. We talked about the importance of sharing food together and also creating space for conversations both serious and more casual. Ultimately though the most important piece for me was proximity. It does not need to be a physical space, just a common point of connection. Things like school, work, neighbourhoods or church where you bump into the same people again and again. In these places I feel it is important we build areas of common space (coffee pot or water cooler at work, the park in your neighbourhood or the playground at school). The key thing is to be intentional in building relationships as these bump-in’s happen. That’s how community forms.