Saturday, December 27, 2014

Expanding Circles of Encounter

Community happens at so many levels and in so many networks:
Imagine community with sisters from various communities,
--living, working and praying together.
Imagine living sustainably in an urban setting.
Imagine living in dynamic relationship with Earth and the ecosystem.
Imagine networking with others in a neighborhood ecovillage.
Imagine incarnating the Gospel here and now, in our lives today.
Imagine hope.
Imagine peace.

Since spring 2013, I have lived in Dogtown, an historic district in central St. Louis, that is traditionally Irish and home to the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. I came here for two reasons: first, to work with other younger women religious to establish an inter-congregational community house, and second, to join a group of families in the neighborhood who are establishing the Dogtown Ecovillage. These are two grassroots efforts building sustainability through mutual support in ever widening circles of relationship and encounter.
1. A group of younger women religious in the St. Louis area have been meeting regularly for several years under the names of Giving Voice and Sisters 2.0.* Many of us are finding it increasingly difficult to find community living situations where all the members are engaged in active, full-time ministry. We hope to build supportive local communities where sisters can share in community, in spirituality and in mission. This inter-congregational community is one concrete result of our regular gatherings and conversations.
This is one way of 'seeding our future' by forming networks of relationship with sisters in various congregation. Our experiences of religious life have been inter-congregational from our earliest days in community. Sisters 2.0 is a movement of the new generations of women religious. In this peer-led, self-organized space, we network for visioning and fostering future oriented initiatives for religious life. We naturally turn to our 2.0 sisters to build these new community spaces.
My vision and my view of the future are influenced by where I stand. I stand with my sisters in my CSJ community in many respects, and I stand with my 2.0 sisters in other respects. I value opportunities to move in and out of congregational circles, and to move in and out of peer-sister circles in mutually supportive ways.
The inter-congregational house is sponsored by the Religious Life Project, nonprofit organization founded to support religious life, particularly, younger Sisters in living the communal and spiritual dimensions of vowed life, and work with them toward their sustainability.
2. The Dogtown Ecovillage is a group of families in the neighborhood who have gathered to build community and support environmental sustainability through shared experiences such as pot-luck dinners, community service projects, parties, and educational events. Our goal is to engage in sustainability projects in collaboration with other local and regional initiatives such as Gateway Greening, Operation Brightside and the Mayor's Sustainability Action Agenda. By our active presence in the neighborhood, we are able to raise the consciousness of our neighbors and help them to embrace the same values. Together, we create projects such as: gardening in private and shared settings, permaculture, home energy audits, improved housing efficiency, environmental or social justice activism, tool lending library, shared car, shared wifi, shared child care and shared space for environmental activist organizations.
At our inter-congregational house, we have installed organic gardens and fruit trees, focusing on native plants, edible plans and perennials. Sweet potatos have become one of our signature crops as we discover creative new ways to prepare a sweet potato dish for our various pot-luck suppers. At our holiday gift exchange, we brought packages of seeds we had collected from native wild flowers in our gardens.
As the cold winter days force us indoors the Dogtown Ecovillage has taken on an energy audit project. Initially we planned to negotiate with a local provider to audit the homes of ten ecovillagers, including our intercongregational house. With the approval of the provider, we also offered the program to others in the neighborhood and now have forty homes signed up for energy audits. As the project proceeds, we plan to post stories of the audits in local publications and social media so that we can continue to expand the circles of influence.
I am privileged to have this opportunity to live into our chapter calls for sustainability, for nurturing the future of vowed religious life and for partnering with new eyes.
* Why Sisters 2.0? The use of “2.0” after a term indicates the next generation, building on earlier versions and adapting it to new challenges.

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