The Kansas City area is blessed with intentional communities


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Image credit above: Jerusalem Farm main building at 520 Garfield Ave. in Kansas City. (Bill Tammeus | Flat Earth)

When Michael Stringer and Jason Milbrandt bought the iconic St. Francis apartment building at 300 Gladstone Blvd., around the corner from the Kansas City Museum, they saved it from demolition just a year before it was turned 100 in 2012.

Eleven years and a lot of reconstruction later, the work is not quite finished. But now members of a nearby Catholic Intentional Community called Jerusalem Farm are helping finish the job.

Since this non-profit community was established 10 years ago to live the principles of “prayer, community, simplicity and service”, its members have done countless home repair jobs in northeast town. He also led a curbside compost collection program and engaged in other efforts to improve life in Pendleton Heights and surrounding neighborhoods.

Michael Stringer owns the St. Francis building behind him at 300 Gladstone Blvd. (Bill Tammeus | Flat Earth)

“They’ve just done an amazing job improving this area,” says Stringer.

Jerusalem Farm, located at 520 Garfield Ave., isn’t quite what you might think of as a farm (although it does have a greenhouse and helps with a Giving Grove orchard). But it tried to be an urban version of a rural intentional community in West Virginia called Nazareth Farm.

The Foundation for Intentional Community lists similar communities around the world, including more than 20 in Missouri and one cohousing group, Delaware Street Commons, in Lawrence, Kansas.

Like other intentional communities – many rooted in religious tradition, others not – Jerusalem Farm brings together people with similar ideas about how they want to live and the values ​​required to live that way.

Jordan “Sunny” Hamrick, who has been with J-Farm for about seven years, puts it this way: “One of the things that unites us is our common mission. Our mission is not just to try to live together, but we are trying to achieve something together. It’s working together for a better world where we take care of each other. It’s acknowledging every day that we need each other, we have to show each other the for each other. And when we do that, we make things better. We want to achieve something greater than the other.

Jessie Schiele, Executive Director of J-Farm and wife of Jordan Schiele, Community Project Director, says, “Catholic Social Teaching is our guide to what we do. She is not Catholic, but she attends a Catholic parish, her husband is in the process of being ordained a Catholic deacon, and their children have been baptized Catholics.

At the moment, says Jessie, Jerusalem Farm has “the biggest community we’ve ever had – 14 adults and five children.”

Additionally, (when not blocked by COVID restrictions) the farm attracts students for specific time-limited projects. They’re called “residents, people who want to commit one to six months,” says Jessie. The year before the pandemic, J-Farm was hosting more than 200 students per year.

Members of Jerusalem Farm Trinidad Raj Molina, Jordan
Jerusalem Farm Trinidad members Raj Molina, Jordan “Sunny” Hamrick and Executive Director Jessie Schiele in the headquarters chapel on Garfield Avenue. (Bill Tammeus | Flat Earth)

Holding an intentional community together can be a struggle. As Jessie acknowledges, “We’ve had people leaving on how power is used, on personalities, on how decisions are made. Most people leave the communities because they want to go to higher education or for other reasons. And communities that fail, she says, seem to do so because of poor leadership.

Another J-Farm member, Trinidad Raj Molina, says he has known other intentional communities “that weren’t very healthy, partly because they didn’t know how to resolve conflicts between members. Some red flags I’ve seen in other intentional communities that I haven’t seen here.

At Delaware Street Commons in Lawrence, the community is not based on a common religious commitment but rather on a desire for close community and cooperation.

Rich Minder, who helps guide this cohousing community, says the idea was generated in 1999, but it took until 2007 to build the 23 homes and other structures and green spaces that make up Delaware Street Commons.

Families buy the houses they live in, but they only own what is inside the house.

Jerusalem Farm member Teresa Kuppinger works in one of the apartments behind St. Francis at 300 Gladstone Blvd.
Jerusalem Farm member Teresa Kuppinger works in one of the apartments behind St. Francis at 300 Gladstone Blvd. (Bill Tammeus | Flat Earth)

“When you walk out of your house, you’re in community space,” says Minder. “We believe that people will give time to the community. Everyone contributes in a different way. »

Each community finances itself in different ways. Delaware Street Commons, for example, relies on landlord assessments based on square footage, while Jerusalem Farm is primarily funded by fees from service retreat participants as well as individual donations and grants.

And each community – even those with a common religious background – fulfills a different function. Unlike the home repairs and environmental work that J-Farm members focus on, Cherith Brook Catholic Worker, nearly 12and Street and Benton Boulevard in Kansas City, take care of the homeless by providing meals and showers, for example.

At Jerusalem Farm, Jessie Schiele says she sees her community “more like a bridge. The Catholic Church has turned many people away for many reasons. We are very accessible to people and we do something that people want to be part of.

What draws people to J-Farm, says Hamrick, is “a loss of community. I call us a community of liberation. Much of the work we do and the way we do it is aimed at freeing us from the traps we might fall into. Everyone eventually gets tired of being overworked and underpaid. When these things fall away and no longer serve us, we can free each other from the demands of a 40-hour work week and even the demands of having to cook dinner ourselves.

In some ways, intentional communities resemble monasteries, not in their religious practices, such as silence, but in the way they model behaviors and attitudes that can be adopted by others who feel overwhelmed by life. and seek more meaningful ways to live. In the process, they can feed and shower starving people and repair decaying houses and apartments.

Beyond that, they can bring a little humor back to life. Otherwise, why would Jessie Schiele identify herself on the J-Farm website not only as the executive director, but also as the “popcorn maker”?

Jerusalem Farm members, who do a lot of home repair work in the northeast neighborhoods of the city, are working to complete the renovation of the well-known old St. Francis apartment building at 300 Gladstone Blvd.
Jerusalem Farm members, who do a lot of home repair work in the northeast neighborhoods of the city, are working to complete the renovation of the well-known old St. Francis apartment building at 300 Gladstone Blvd. (Bill Tammeus | Flat Earth)

Bill Tammeus, an award-winning columnist formerly of the Kansas City Star, writes the “faith mattersblog for The Star’s website and columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and formerly for The National Catholic Reporter. Her latest book is Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. Email him at [email protected].

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