A 70’s Call for a Gathered Community
- Janet Irby, 3/18/2019
The late 1960’s and early 70’s were a traumatic time in our country, the Vietnam War and its protests, Nixon’s crimes, university sit in’s and civil rights challenges. Community of Christ as a denomination was also undergoing tremendous upheavals with the opening up of its traditions and beliefs to the larger Christian world, including the incorporation of historical and Biblical research. In this context, one answer to these upheavals was visions of new forms of community. Dreams of utopian possibilities inspired many experiments–communes, women’s liberation support groups, artist colonies.
A spiritual leader in the Community of Christ at that time, Apostle William Timms, had his own vision for the congregations under his care, geographically spanning the northwestern and north central states of the US. In his visit to the Seattle area family camp the summer of 1977, (called Reunion), Timms lay the ground work for “gathering centers”. These would be intentional communities developed near church buildings as a way to live out Christ’s mission outside the walls of the church. He called for disciples to sense “in their bones that tomorrow was dependent on them.” He challenged us to “organize ourselves…to be an effective power base”; “accept accountability for the communities where we dwell”; and be “infiltrators of … community to change the environment.” (July 1977 Reunion message, p.2-3)
My husband Dave and I heard this challenge at a fragile time in our lives where we were looking for emotional support and a hope to replace dissatisfaction and disappointment. We had been attending small group meetings in homes of church members that helped us realize the need for Spiritual support. One of the families in our group, the Puckett’s, had decided to build a home in the gathering center being formed around the Crystal Springs Community of Christ. They encouraged us to come see a home being built next door to theirs that was for sale. We had heard Apostle Timms’ vision of groups of Christ’s followers living closer together geographically so that they could have a greater impact on communities. With both of us working as our children entered school age, we could afford to move from Seattle out to Bothell and the Crystal Springs community. Eventually we had 11 families living on the blocks behind the church and others within several miles. We never wanted to be exclusive, so the lots developed by the church were accessible to anyone, not just church members.
This began a grand experiment to be nurtured in a “gathered” community as leaven to be in the world, joining God’s Spirit for good. In addition to the leadership this community provided to the congregation, there were many outcomes from this decision to be “gathered”. These included a partnership with a local coop preschool, sponsorship of Cambodian refugee families, support for members running for public office and providing leadership in schools, musical drama productions that involved community youth, community vacation church school, great garage give-away’s, safe space for raising children, and much more.
Here is one example shared by Blake Puckett. “When Andy [my son] was about six years old and Stewart and Maxine Wight were staying at [the Irby’s] house while [they] were away [on sabbatical for a year], they were getting ready to leave and they were packing up and Andy went over and knocked on the door. Stewart answered the door and he said, ‘Andy, right now we are packing up and working and I can’t play.’ And Andy said, ‘I know. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to help.’ And Stewart, as the evangelist/patriarch that he was, said, ‘Come in.’ And Andy worked all day with him. And I have to believe that that’s one of those times in Andy’s life that made a big difference because one of the reasons he is the most sought-after contractor in this area today is because people talk about how he is helpful. He lets them work with them. He saves them money. He’s good, and he brings good people in. Andy likes to help. And that’s part of his business…And I think that is one of the [examples]. Everybody in the neighborhood nurtured all the kids.”
In later blog posts, I will share more about this dream lived out.