Spiritual and Religious Communities
Many religious communities have attempted radical types of sharing, while others have maintained more individual resources and privacy. Usually the motivation for voluntarily entering some level of communal life that counters the self-serving and more impulsive elements of human nature is a conviction about the possibility of living peacefully with others, by creating a social context in which all will flourish.
IC.org lists a large variety of religiously or spiritually oriented intentional communities worldwide. If the type you are looking for doesn’t exist in an area where you are obligated to stay, ICmatch could be a good way to get started creating your own. Note the ICmatch profile question labeled “Practice-based IC.” Even if you envision a group culture that is fairly easygoing and friendly, check the first option “Mandate of adherence to shared religious beliefs and practices” to indicate that your intent is to establish a religious or spiritually-focused IC. This will help members with similar ideals to find you.
Steps to create a spiritual or religious co-housing group
- Do your own personal growth work. If you avoid this step, your shadow side may be the downfall of your attempt at community, especially if you avoid sharing power.
- Read about the many failed religious ICs. This could give you a better chance of avoiding known pitfalls.
- Learn by experience. Live in one or more successful religious ICs.
- Seek advisors. Some religious communities are established with the authority of an established religious order with a recognized lineage, such as with ashrams, kibbutzim, and convents/monasteries. If you are attempting to create a container for practice that relates to a recognized lineage of religious or philosophical order, it honors the tradition to do so with the sanction and guidance of an elder from that community. Even a heretical elder will do, but one with a long-standing allegiance to a basis of the tradition. Without that foundation, your experiment may do more harm than good. The failure of your efforts, small or large, will be associated with that tradition. Every beginning community does well to channel some of its initial enthusiasm into time-tested formalities, rather than waste it in pursuing one novel approach after another, many of which have already proven unfruitful in multiple past attempts.
- Create a leadership team that shares power. If you think you alone have all the answers, and maybe a handful of others when they agree with you, you’ll likely fall into the pattern of cult-like communities.
- Develop a funding stream. Some offer group or individual retreats. You may write grants to determine whether you can secure a consistent benefactor. You may find it useful to register as a church (see Resources section) to offer tax deduction receipts to donors. As a non-profit you can provide receipts even for donations of food and a variety of goods and services. Alternately, you may choose to attract self-employed or independently wealthy members.
- Get clear on membership requirements. State in writing what financial contributions are needed from individual members in order for your IC to sustain itself. Many income-sharing communities (sometimes called communes) require a number of work hours from members and in return provide for members’ basic physical needs. It’s important to be explicit about all requirements, even the subtle ones that could be said to simply be cultural norms. To leave it nebulous invites social loafing, which the more diligent members will soon begin to resent. Even among families, chores and other types of contribution are often renegotiated. Those that ignore this necessity put themselves on the path of the estimated 90% of overly-idealistic groups that fail to achieve even the most basic cohesion as a community (Christian, 2003).
- Provide ritual. Co-create transformational events blending work and play. Think Burning Man and other modern arts festivals. Events can remain affordable if they incorporate work sessions where participants can be coordinated to complete needed jobs, structured group work where participants learn skills and become familiar with each other, followed by feasts and displays of artistry. These may or may not be open to the public. Either way, you need some cohesion-building traditions within your IC.
- Create a path for membership. The requirements and decision process should be clear and time-limited, in order to be fair to hopefuls. Allow them to move on if they aren’t a good fit, rather than leading them on endlessly with the prospect of acceptance into the inner circle. You might find it hard to deliver the news of them not making the cut, but if the process is clear and you proceed according to the known steps and timelines, they won’t have reason to feel unfairly treated.
Christian, D. L. (2003). Creating a life together: Practical tools to grow ecovillages and intentional communities. New Society.
The Monastic Academy in Vermont, California, and Ontario is a modern Buddhist intentional community open to outsiders joining, as well as offering extended stays as self-designed visits or attending their retreats.
The Bruderhof Community, a Christian organization sharing its wealth in common, has 3000 members across five continents, living in small communal settlements.
The Nurturing Communities Network lists Christian intentional communities and offers mentoring to new communities.
Beware of cults. Know the warning signs, and avoid becoming cultish.