Ten notable American religious communes

While monasteries with wider church support are a longstanding institution in Christian history, independent, self-sustaining faith-based communes have made their mark in America. Unlike a monastery, not all of them were celibate.

Here are ten.

  1. Ephrata Cloister. Pennsylvania, 1732-2008. Founded by Johann Conrad Beissel, the pietist group broke off from the German Baptist Brethren (or Dunker) denomination, which largely continues as today’s Church of the Brethren. It had the second printing press in the American colonies. Its celibate emphasis was gradually eliminated.
  2. Moravians. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1741), and Salem, North Carolina (1753). The denomination dates to Jan Hus (1369-1415), a Czech reformer years before Luther and Calvin led the Protestant Reformation. The American communities initially had common ownership of all property by the church, supervised housing for single men and single women, and likely other communal aspects.
  3. The Shakers. Founded by Mother Ann Lee, it settled in Watervliet, New York, 1774, and spread from Maine to Indiana and Kentucky. Best known of the communal movements, in part for its beautiful furniture and architecture. One village remains.
  4. Hebus Valley. Pennsylvania. Founded by George Rapp, 1824-1906. Christian theosophists and pietists.
  5. Hopedale Community. Massachusetts, Adin Ballou, 1842-1856. “Practical Christianity” with a Universalist base. Utopian ideals included temperance, abolitionism, women’s rights, and spiritualism. Attempted to be part of the surrounding community.
  6. Amana Colonies. Originated in Germany in 1714 and arrived in Iowa, 1855. Communal system ended in 1932.
  7. Bruderhof. An Anabaptist denomination arising from the Hutterites in Germany in 1920, it has communities in Paraguay, Europe, Australia, and the United States (from 1954). Its beliefs are similar to Mennonites – peace, simplicity, adult baptism, and so on. There are currently 17 communities in the U.S.
  8. Hare Krishnas. The best known of the ISKON (Krishna Consciousness) communities is New Vrindaban, West Virginia, settled in 1968.
  9. Friends Southwest House. McNeal, Arizona, opened in 1976. I didn’t even know of this Quaker community, much less of its long life.
  10. Eighteenth Avenue Peace House. Portland, Oregon, opened in 1986. Ecumenical Christian.

Any you’d add to the list?

 

Top Ten, Religion, Spirituality, History, Inspiration,

 

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Xristos anestiek nekron …

As Greek Orthodox Christians everywhere sing joyously while waving candles aloft in the darkness before dawn this morning, the hymn continues:

Thanato thanaton patisas,
ke tis tis mnimasin,
zoin xarisamensos.

And in English-speaking places, they alternate that stanza with a translated version before repeating both over and over:

Christ is risen from the tomb
trampling down death by death!
And on those in the tombs, he has granted life!

XRISTOS ANESTIEK!

Having celebrated the Resurrection in a service that ends around 2:30 a.m., the Greek Orthodox return for a vespers at 11 a.m. One of the traditions here is for the morning’s Gospel reading to be given in every language spoken by those in the room. Here I am, making my public debut in Spanish with the text about Doubting Thomas. (Photo by Maria Faskianos)

Coming to the culmination of Great Lent

In his “Note on the Religious Tendencies” published by Liberation magazine in 1959, the Zen Buddhist and poet Gary Snyder remarked, “The statement common in some circles, ‘All religions lead to the same goal,’ is the result of fantastically sloppy thinking and no practice.” His very next sentence is equally startling. “It is good to remember that all religions are nine-tenths fraud and are responsible for numerous social evils.”

Well, the essay is largely a defense of the beat generation, and he was an American studying in monasteries in Kyoto. I wonder if he’d admit today how much social progress and learning have come about through religion, too. That could make for an illuminating debate.

I did hear him once mention that on the Buddhist spectrum, Zen starts at one extreme and Tibetan tradition at the other, but that as followers of each advance in their practice – as he said this, his outstretched arms began to sweep over this head – they eventually approach and then cross places. Just as his arms were doing. Go far enough, of course, and each would land where the other one had set forth.

Without going into detail, I find a lot in common there when it comes to Quakers and Eastern Orthodox on the Christian spectrum.

The one is plain, even austere, and very much centered in the present. The other is visually and tactily rich, accompanied by an accentuated awareness of mortality and death.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I am a Quaker who’s been fascinated lately with Greek Orthodox life. It doesn’t all spring from questions arising as I drafted and revised my novel What’s Left, either. Besides, Cassia’s family wasn’t all that observant of their native faith, even if members were toying with the Tibetan Buddhism her father practiced.

Admittedly, few Americans know much about either Quakers or Orthodox Christians, despite their impact on the larger society. Ditto for Buddhism.

Today is an especially important day for the Orthodox.

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Be the church

These T-shirts worn by members of Durham Community Church (UCC) at a Jericho Walk around the federal building in Manchester uphold the perspective of the church as the body of believers rather than the house of worship or the organizational structure. This was at a vigil opposing the deportation of refugees.

Defined by faith, especially

Many Americans participate in a congregation close to their homes – a neighborhood church, as it’s often called.

For others, though, the decision is more selective and may require travel to gather for worship, communal action, and other events.

Frequently, these members define their personal identity strongly by these religious circles – I certainly do as a Quaker. Still others, like Jews or Greeks, find their identity further enhanced by the use of a foreign language, such as Hebrew or Greek, in worship and possibly also at home, as well as unique holidays on dates the wider public doesn’t celebrate.

I am fascinated by the intensity of this identification for some people or its relative weakness in others. I rarely hear individuals define themselves as, say, Methodist or Presbyterian or even Baptist with the sense of intense core identity I hear in Quaker, Greek, Mennonite, or even “nonobservant Jew.”

Think about the Amish, with their German dialect accompanied by distinctive dress and horse-and-carriage transportation. Or Ultra-Orthodox Jews who also observe the dress restrictions and likely add Yiddish to the mix.

Let’s assume we’ll find similar patterns in new ethnic populations appearing in the nation – Islam, especially. Anyone else feeling some empathy?

What’s your experience of religion and personal identity?

TEN THOUGHTS ABOUT THE NATIVITY

Among other things, the birth of Jesus is riddled with scandal. (As is his execution.) Here are 10 things a close reading of the story in Matthew and Luke will reveal:

  1. His ancestors include a prostitute (Rahab, Joshua 2 and 6) and a woman from a forbidden ethnic group, the Moabite Ruth. Both, by the way, defy social conventions of both their origins and the people they join.
  2. The deity-human intercourse, so common in the cultures of surrounding mythologies, involves a commoner rather than royalty or high social position.
  3. Archangels – messengers of God – don’t appear to just anyone. And to appear to a woman, rather than a male prophet or priest, can be seen as outrageous. In fact, her encounter with Gabriel comes off much better than the one her cousin Elizabeth’s husband, the priest Zechariah, has in the depths of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. (There Gabriel strikes him speechless until their own child’s birth nine months later – or 10, by the Jewish calendar.)
  4. Mary is more independent than she’s typically depicted. Meek? I’d say militant. According to law, she should have been stoned to death but instead sings praises to, or even with, the Holy One. Think of it as a love song. And then she flees to her cousin Elizabeth for refuge. (Well, Zechariah really can’t complain or report her now, can he?)
  5. What do we make of Joseph? He’s a surprisingly elusive character in the story. I’m among those who assume he’s much older than Mary. (A young man would have been outraged by seeming betrayal, but Joseph, no matter his pain, is shown to be even tender toward her condition when he decides to divorce quietly after the birth.) But in his own way he, too, is rejecting social norms and expectations and risks being cast out from his circles. And, in contrast to his betrothed, the angel that appears to him has no name.
  6. Mary gives birth to more children, the siblings of Jesus. There are his James, Jude, and Simon … (“Joses” is more likely to be Jesus himself than the Joseph sometimes put forward) and, by tradition, sisters Joanna and Salome, possibly among the named women who later go to the tomb.
  7. The stable was a much more private and comfortable place to give birth than what would have passed for an inn.
  8. If shepherds were out with their flocks, the birth would have been in springtime, not the beginning of winter.
  9. The star is not in the east. Rather, the three magi – or astrologers – come from the east, where they saw a heavenly light, likely a comet or bright planet, as a sign.
  10. A much more ominous, cosmological version of the Nativity is told in Revelation 12. If you’re overloaded with the happy-happy Christmas hoopla, you might look at this as a tonic.

~*~

Whatever your faith, here’s wishing you a time of love, joy, and deep refreshment as we gather among family and friends in the shortest days of the year.

~*~

A few of the present wrapping touches in our household.