Monday, January 26, 2009

Living in a Catholic Worker House

Our Catholic Worker House is looking for women, men and families who want to live together in community. What does it mean to do that?

Three of us live at the house now. Two of us work full-time jobs while the third is able to devote all his time to outreach work. We basically live "normal" lives with the exception that we live together in community--we pray together and conduct outreach ministries together.

I take great joy in knowing that the money I would normally spend on rent is now money that is being used to keep the lights on in a center of Christian outreach. So instead of just using my "extra" money to give to the needy, my basic living expenses are now going to a greater purpose (our "rent" is very reasonable).

The same is true with my time: All the time and effort I would normally spend cooking, cleaning and maintaining a home is now time I spend doing those same things for the Catholic Worker. Someday soon, instead of just making dinner for myself, I will also be cooking for some neighbors in need, too. Just by living there I am available in ways that would be difficult if I lived elsewhere. The magic of the Catholic Worker is simply sharing our normal daily lives with others in need. You don't need any special skills for that--it is just about being hospitable and available to be with others.

The main requirement for live-in members is that we all participate in cleaning and maintaining the house. Members are also required to have a background check. We ask that people who live with us would also want to participate in the mission of the community--although no single activity would ever be mandatory (for example, no one is required to attend prayer).

Our ministries are just starting out, but we have begun (or will soon begin) home visits for the elderly, assisting at a food pantry, community gardening, ESL classes, regular prayer, hot meals to the hungry and social action against the death penalty. Members can participate in these or develop their own ministries that our community can support.

The name "Catholic Worker" is one of the most confusing parts of the movement. There are communities that aren't Catholic at all, such as The Open Door Community in Atlanta, GA, which was founded by Protestant ministers. At the regional meetings, the topic frequently comes up to change the name. However, the name has stuck just out of the tradition and the history that goes with Dorothy Day, but make no mistake: While we are rooted in the Catholic tradition, we are open to all faiths. The charism of our community is largely based on the members. Our flavor tends to be Catholic just from the simple fact that most of our members are rooted in that tradition.

So if you are interested in living with other people of faith and doing outreach work together, we would love to share our home and invite you into our community. Each day is unique, as you never know who might drop in. Some days we are hosting a community group, another day the pastor drops in with his dog, and some others days it is just us guys. In any case, it sure beats coming home to the TV or the lonely internet every night! People can get very isolated in our society, but human beings were never meant to live that way.

Our house exudes a quiet, peaceful atmosphere, which we attribute to the prayers and loving attention of the Dominican sisters who lived there for nearly 50 years. At other times, the house is full with people eating and talking together. At the very core, the Catholic Worker is a movement of hospitality. As Dorothy Day would say, each person who comes to the door--whether it is a person in need of food, someone attending a meeting or another person just passing through--each person who comes to the door is Christ. We try to live that charism every day!

If you are interested, contact us here or by phone at 614-267-3322. To see if you are a good fit for our community, you would have the chance to talk to the members of our community (those who live there as well as those who don't) and possibly to stay overnight on a weekend just to try it out. In a 20-bedroom facility, we have gobs and gobs of space. With a few more people living there, we could devote all of our donations directly to our ministries rather than having to use some of it just to pay the utilities. We would love to have several more people join us!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our Ministries

Probably the #1 question we were asked during the Open House was: "What are you Catholic Workers doing?"

The first month has been a hustle & bustle of moving and settling in. We have a cleaning schedule and are working out a food budget. We pray the Liturgy of the Hours every morning at 6:00 am. We have hosted a number of groups for food and fellowship. This has been a great way to introduce people to what we are doing, and we will continue to do it.

A lot of ministry ideas have been researched and discussed over the last several months. We have picked the following ministries to move forward with. The Holy Spirit may change our best laid plans, but as of now here is what we are up to:

* Dale has begun his ministry to the elderly. He has a regular schedule of folks that he visits each week to provide pastoral care. He will present his ministry to local churches and host a training session for volunteers. Plans are in the works to offer the Catholic Worker house for "adult day care" or meals for the elderly. Our hearts go out to the elderly, who have given us to much. They deserve our time and attention now that they are in need.

* We have begun to volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. They are going to move from the rectory to our house in mid-March. Living right on site, we can be a resource for them to draw on in case they are low on volunteers for a particular evening or so.

* Evening prayer will be one evening each week. We will have songs, meditations, Taize chants and "roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought," as Peter Maurin would say.

* We just learned that the parish has lost its ESL teacher for the Hispanic community. Plans are underway to develop a curriculum to offer English classes one evening each week.

* Plans are also in the works to begin serving hot meals to needy families. We are going to start small and determine how often to offer this, but once each week may be very possible. People would also be able to browse clothing donations and a "free store" as those resources develop.

* We will be offering hospitality after masses to the parish of St. James the Less one weekend each month. The parish has been kind enough to supply the coffee & donuts as long as we are willing to host! We are more than happy to do so.

* We are researching the possibility for a medical or legal clinic. This may be of particular interest to the Hispanic community. Fr. Pat has also asked us to bring in speakers to talk about personal finances or legal issues. These maybe take some time to develop, but we are actively looking into them.

* We have gotten some calls from people who need a place to stay. While we have not been able to provide them hospitality, we were able to connect one family to resources through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the YWCA Family Center to get them through this difficult period.

The specific dates/times of these ministries are still being determined, but we will announce them as soon as they are finalized! Look for this information to be posted relatively soon.

Please consider supporting these ministries with your time, talents or finances!

Woodcut of Peter Maurin by Fritz Eichenberg (detail). The others are depictions of the works of mercy by Ade Bethune.

Added Later: I almost forgot to mention the Community Garden! Members of the parish are interested in working with us to put together a community garden on the grounds of St. James the Less. We look to have an interest meeting for this soon!

In addition, a number of people have requested that we open our space for A. A. meetings. We are currently researching those possibilities, as well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Open House!

The Columbus Catholic Worker was pleased to open our doors to the parish community of St. James the Less on Sunday. We met many wonderful people who are doing marvelous work in their church and community. This parish continue to impress us.

In the first picture are Ginger and Mary. Their enthusiasm for the Catholic Worker has been a true blessing!

Pictured to the left is Dale in his brotherly attire!

We had such a good time hosting the parish that we asked Fr. Scott about the possibility of offering hospitality on a more regular basis after mass. The church offers coffee & donuts during the summer, but we could host in the winter.

Pat continues to learn more "secrets" of the house from Sister Barbara!

Bill and Mary were caught with a "far out" expression on their faces. That is because they were having an in-depth discussion about astronomy and life on other planets!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Forget the Snow: Think About Green Gardens!

Fr. Scott and his dog Grace trudged over in the snow to visit the other day. Among the things we discussed was the possibility of a garden. The good news is that there may be a possibility of having a garden for ourselves at the church.

This will be a wonderful way to not only contribute to our ministry but also to donate fresh vegetables to the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at the parish.

It also gives us a local depository for our compost. As you can see from the picture, we can generate some serious compost. These four containers were filled in less than a week!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Presence of Grace

We were blessed to welcome Grace to the Catholic Worker this morning. She helped Dale and I clean the house in preparation for the Open House this weekend. We thank her for her hard work!God bless her--after leaving the Catholic Worker, she will be helping out at the Open Shelter later this afternoon.

She remarked that our place was in a pretty good shape: "I didn't find many cobwebs." How true, thanks to the Dominican sisters!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Probably the biggest mistake I've seen some Catholic Worker communities make is breaking relationship. People get inspired by Dorothy Day and are driven to action. They want to take in the homeless under any conditions, make strong noise about social justice issues and they want to do it right now. They believe they are keeping with the spirit of the Catholic Worker. In some ways they are right.

But one of the most important traits of Dorothy Day was her ability to stay in relationship with people. She kept ties with the Catholic Church, even when it was not easy. She stayed in dialogue with anyone who was willing to talk to her. She valued each person who crossed her path.

We have worked hard in Columbus to stay in relationship. Our community was founded with open dialogue with the Bishop and Chancery. At St. James the Less, we worked carefully to answer the concerns of the parish and to be transparent in our actions and words. We are developing our ministries gradually and with their approval rather than imposing them all at once. We are making sure there are safeguards in place to protect the parish and school. We knew it might be an uncomfortable transition for the parish. We respect their sensitivities as they have had very valid concerns.

In many ways, former convents are ideal for Catholic Worker communities. They are marvelous buildings designed for large-scale community living. Many communities have tried to turn them into houses of hospitality. The unfortunate truth is that it is rare for Catholic Workers to stay in a convent for long. Too often, Catholic Workers become impulsive and open their doors to anyone. They seek to protest society and the church before attempting to be in relationship with them. They quickly overshoot the comfort level of the parish. It is not long before the Catholic Worker is kicked off of church property, or at the very least, ends up with a cold "don't ask, don't tell" situation.

It is easy to follow our passions and do something radical right now. It is easy to get up on our high horse and complain about injustice. It is hard to turn someone away who comes to the door asking for help. However, there are also consequences whenever a group decides to break relationship. Whenever someone gets up on their high horse, they may feel good about themselves but all they are really doing is alienating people because they are not truly respecting them. They do their mission a disservice as they are now out in the streets with fewer resources with which to help the poor.

The truth is that it is not the parish who kicks out the Catholic Worker--often, it is the Catholic Worker who has already broken relationship with the parish. I am not in a position to say what is right or wrong along these lines. Perhaps that is the way it needs to be. The Catholic Worker will always be a source of discomfort for society. But somehow, great leaders such as Dorothy Day and Gandhi found ways to be in relationship with people, even those whose actions they were protesting.

The Columbus Catholic Worker believes it is better to be in relationship than not. It might slow us down from time to time, but it could also open a whole world that would otherwise be closed if we just went off and did our own thing. Positive change and mutual transformation are only going to come through relationship, and we welcome the opportunity. We are growing to love the parish of St. James the Less, and their concerns have helped us to be better stewards, rely on God more and to think through our ministries more carefully.

Artwork by Ade Bethune

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Changes

Open House

The Open House this weekend will be after the 11:00 mass only, not after all masses. Please see the post below, it has been corrected. We need all your help to make this event successful to help introduce ourselves to the parish of St. James the Less! Contact us at 267-3322.

Prayer Time

Evening prayer will not be strictly at 5:30 every day, so please call ahead at 267-3322 before you attend. We will still do it, but it may be earlier or later as our schedules permit. The 6:00 am morning prayer will remain as scheduled.

Stay tuned, as our goal is to have a large prayer session one evening each week with music, meditation and other features. We will keep you posted as this develops!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Open House: Help Needed!

We have been asked to host an Open House this weekend for the parish. Fr. Scott would like our live-in community members to speak briefly at each of the masses this weekend and then invite the congregation to visit our facility after the 11:00 am Sunday mass.

We need your help! We need people to provide hospitality at the Catholic Worker after mass. We will be giving tours and offering coffee, juice and snacks. If you are able to help in any way, please sign up. We will need help setting up before the mass times below as well as meeting the congregation when they come over.

This week we will also be cleaning and getting the place in order. You are welcome to assist with that, too.

Please call if you can help or email me here. The phone number at the Catholic Worker is 614-267-3322.

Masses are 4:30 pm on Saturday and 8:30 & 11:00 on Sunday morning.

Icon pictured is The Hospitality of Abraham by Ted Koury. See Genesis Chapter 18: Abraham and Sarah give hospitality to three angels sent by God.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough

The Christ of the Bread Line by Fritz Eichenberg

A stranger called the other day asking to drop off food donations. Surprisingly, she said that her husband had just been laid off. I advised her that maybe they may need the food themselves in the upcoming weeks! She understood, but said they were doing fine for now and felt no need to hold onto things when others may need them more.

This got me thinking. It can be prudent to save, but how much is too much? This woman was manifesting a true Catholic Worker spirit by trusting in God's grace enough to let go of what she had. There was no guarantee that she herself wouldn't end up at soup kitchen, but she was being faithful. God may not reward you by making it easy, but being faithful means that you trust in God to work it out somehow, someway, somewhere down the line.

One of the “downsides” (if you can call it that) of the former convent is that we need very little. Having maintained my own household for several years, I brought boxes of silverware, pots & pans, you name it. We have tried to utilize our own possessions for general use whenever possible, but sometimes it is just unnecessary. We don’t need 2 crock pots, 2 microwaves, etc.

Should I hold onto it for a rainy day? Might we need it in the future? God has blessed the earth with many resources, and I feel like an irresponsible steward to hold onto so many things when others may need them more. I started piling this stuff in the main storage room on the first floor. Perhaps it can be the beginnings of a “free store” at the Catholic Worker.

Like the Van Morrison song goes, "times gettin' tougher than tough." Shelters and food pantries are feeling the pinch. The woman was right: Now is the time to give.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Landing Place Community

Dale, Pat and I hosted eleven members of the Landing Place Community at the Catholic Worker house this past Saturday.

Like us, they are primarily a group of Christians who live together in intentional communities. They share several houses mostly in the Franklinton area of Columbus.

We enjoyed a dinner together and gave the group a tour of our new digs. It was the first time we utilized the fancy serving dishes and table settings we inherited from the Dominican sisters!

We learned about each others' communities. It seems like there are plenty of ways we can be involved together, such as sharing prayer time or ministry work. We offered our space for them as a retreat center or as a quiet place to study or pray. Their counsel will be important as they have lived in community for a while and can help us through the bumps and obstacles that no doubt lay ahead of us.

Pictured above is Jeremy leading the group in a verse of, "Gonna lay down my 401(k) down by the riverside."

Many hearty thanks to Jonathan M. who helped us organize this event! Check out his rain barrels--they are both an economic and environmentally beneficial improvement to any household!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Moving In!

All three initial live-in volunteers were able to finalize their move to the new Catholic Worker house in the last weekend of 2008. Dale had already moved in several days prior, so that left Pat and me (Frank) to get there . It took two days, several meals and lots of lifting, but we were able to do it and had a good time throughout the weekend.

I'm glad Sr. Barbara was not able to see firsthand the mess we created in the large dining room! Thankfully, that mess exists now only in memory.

Below is a picture of Pat happily lifting some containers.

Note: This laundry bin contained some shoes that were lost for several days. His eyes must have been blinded by the flash, for he put this in the most unlikely of places.
It wasn't all work, though. Fortunately, there was also plenty of time for fellowship! Below are Dale and Erin discussing the finer points of something or other.

Thanks to Cheryl, Erin & the kids, Mary, Bill and everyone else who helped make this move a lot easier! Your help and your company gave us a warm welcome.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Daily Prayer

At 6:00 am this morning, I rubbed my tired eyes and headed downstairs to join Pat and Dale for morning prayer. We shuffled our way quietly to the chapel. Today was our first day of doing this together as a group.

We prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, which is comprised of prayers, hymns, psalms and readings. We chanted much of it and sung a song. This practice goes back centuries, as both Christians and Jews have designated prayers for certain times of the day and year. It is a central practice of monastic orders.

While reciting prayers word-for-word may sound like a dry exercise to some, I say don't knock it until you've tried it. Chanting the psalms at 6:00 in the morning in a candle-lit chapel, joining yourself to a practice that goes back hundreds if not thousands of years, is not a small thing. However, as others join us, we may vary the prayers with more improvisation or different styles of prayer.

The Catholic Worker movement is well known for its social justice activism. This is intentional, as those acts are designed to attract attention. The Catholic Worker is also known for its unique approach to hospitality, as the homeless are considered house guests and share the same meals and living space with the workers. But it should also be remembered that the Catholic Worker is also a new way to do Christian community living. Or as Peter Maurin might have said--it is a way that is "so old that it looks like new. "

The Catholic Worker has a strong tradition of people living out their Christian vocation together in community. It is reminiscent of the early Christians. It incorporates elements of Franciscan poverty and Benedictine prayer life. As Dorothy Day said, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

With this in mind, we are working to build such a Christian community, and prayer is an essential part of that. Our prayer time is open to all. Please join us Mon-Fri for morning prayer at 6:00 am and evening prayer at 5:30 pm. For the time being, we will not conduct these prayers on the weekends. You can park on Oakland Park to come through the front door or use backdoor in the parking lot. Call us if you need directions. Times may change in the future, so let us know if you have a scheduling conflict.