The Gifts of Gathering

Posted on October 23, 2018 by

The Fall 2018 edition of Communities, focused on “Networking Communities,” is now available by donation for digital download.

I have been a part of Catholic Worker gatherings since attending my first Midwest Faith and Resistance Retreat in Chicago, Illinois in 2010. I recall sleeping on the gym floor, shooting hoops with other young adults, and listening in on conversations with elders in the movement. I remember the buzz of elation at realizing I had found my people.

I’ve grown accustomed to that injection of inspiration that comes from a weekend spent talking, playing, and working with others who have chosen a similar life path. I come away feeling both that my life is heading the right direction and that our small movement does make a difference in the world. I come away with a better sense of the greater purpose, the greater whole.

The Midwest Catholic Worker—which is a loose constellation of small communities across Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky—is quite good at gathering. In fact, you could go to a gathering every season of the year if you wanted:

Every spring, Workers gather for the Faith and Resistance retreat. The location for this retreat changes every year, depending upon which community needs support for local activism. This year the Hildegard House Catholic Worker in Duluth, Minnesota hosted a pipeline protest in solidarity with the Ojibwe Nation and members of the Fond-Du-Lac Reservation.

Every summer, St. Isidore Catholic Worker in Cuba City, Wisconsin hosts Growing Roots, a radical education session that combines workshops with farm work, song, and prayer.

Every fall, Workers converge upon a rural Catholic church in Sugar Creek, Iowa. This is a social gathering, a regional check-in, with a talent show, round table discussions, and shared singing and praying.

Every winter, Betsy Keenan of Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker in Maloy, Iowa hosts a craft retreat to teach weaving, make candles, soap, and other goods.

Back in 2013, my community, the Bloomington Catholic Worker (BCW), lamented that all these gatherings were quite far away. We all had babies and small children, and the prospect of traveling 16 hours round-trip over a weekend sounded like torture. We longed to be more connected to other Catholic Worker communities and lamented that there wasn’t an Indiana gathering. So we got to work, and together with the Little Flower Catholic Worker in Indianapolis hosted a weekend gathering in March 2014. The following year, we moved the gathering even closer to Bloomington and widened the region. Thus in 2015 the Ohio River Valley Catholic Worker and Christian Community Gathering (ORV) was born.

This last weekend (May 18-20) was the fourth ORV gathering at Solsberry Hill Retreat Center, 15 minutes west of Bloomington. This year we spent the weekend with folks from eight different communities. Every year some of the same people come, from places like Lydia’s House and The Parish Farm School, and some new folks show up. Attendance seems to hover around 45 adults and children.

In one sense, this gathering is like summer camp. We pitch our tents, get out fishing poles and swimming suits. One night we have a huge bonfire and sing along and the other night we have a square dance on the deck over the pond. We start our days off with morning prayer or Quaker meeting and then have round table discussions in the morning and afternoon. This year our discussion topics included “Formation in Community,” “What Is God to You,” and “When Dreams of Community Die.” We also have a two-hour work session on the property. Conor and Bridget McIntyre, the owners and directors of the retreat center, generously give our group a discounted rate in exchange for our labor.

While we aren’t always enthusiastic about organizing the gathering or cleaning up afterward, the gifts of it are bountiful. This year, the gifts for me were hearing about how Lydia’s House in Cincinnati is renovating an eight-unit apartment building to use as transitional housing for single-parent families. It was a gift to meet the men from Little Bear Creek and learn about how their four-member community farms 25 acres near Dayton, Ohio. It was a gift to speak to Adam Gianforte, from Chicago, who chose to spend seven months living in a homeless camp under a viaduct, and so had a lot to say about building community with the marginalized. This is why we gather together—to share stories and encouragement, to build support for one another, to strengthen the intentional communities movement. So if you’re looking for a gathering to join, please know you’re welcome at the Ohio River Valley gathering in May 2019!

Laura Lasuertmer was a member of the Bloomington Catholic Worker (BCW) community for eight years. In August, she and her family left the BCW to start a land-based, interfaith, Catholic Worker-type community near Bloomington.

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A Missing Connection?

I’ve been wondering these days about the ways Christian intentional communities and secular intentional communities can come together. There are groups of Christian communities: The Shalom Mission Communities, The Bruderhof, The Catholic Worker Movement. Among Christian communities, there exists a support network called the Nurturing Communities Network which aims to help communities flourish over the long haul. And I know of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and other secular ecovillages like Dancing Rabbit. But I do not have any personal connections with these communities, nor have I visited any of them. It seems that though Christian and secular communities may have different underlying motivations, they have arrived at similar values and practices.

I’m wondering if there has been a gathering or a conference to intentionally bring these groups together to talk about our experiments in community living—or if religious difference needlessly keeps us apart. I welcome conversation on this topic and can be reached at lertmer [AT]


Excerpted from the Fall 2018 edition of Communities, “Networking Communities”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.

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