The above photo is from an FJV Happy Hour recently organized by Spencer in Buffalo, NY.
As Former Jesuit Volunteers we are called to live out the program values even after our service year(s) are complete, aka…”ruined for life.” There are, without a doubt, many ways to do this. No singular blueprint, manual, or roadmap to how to live our FJV lives. The values speak to us, call us in different ways. We may have an affinity or pull toward some more than others. Some may come easy, natural, and others may be more challenging or difficult. As I get older and more years separate me from my JVC experience, the value I find I have to be the most intentional about, work the hardest at, even find to be the most elusive is community.
Growing up, community was naturally built into many aspects of my life. School, class, a sports team, a club. Going to college I had roommates, housemates, group projects, a constant opportunity to meet and interact with others. In JVC, community is built into the structure. I had the privilege of living with 7 other (wonderful) humans. Not that it was always natural or easy. Community takes work, it takes intentionality, there is conflict, disagreement, differences. But it was there for me to dive in. Growing older, I find there are less of these built in or natural opportunities to be in intentional community with others. Sure I have my family, I have amazing friends, but my understanding of community has grown beyond simply just my family and closest friends. I think truly living out the value of intentional community calls me to something more.
What is intentional community? My understanding of intentional community involves accountability, vulnerability, and respect amongst difference. It involves stepping out of my comfort zone and into relationship with another. It involves entering into the lives of others, and allowing others to enter into my own. It requires caring enough to ask deepening questions, and active listening to hear and seek to understand another’s perspective. The call to community for me doesn’t just mean hanging out with my besties (although that is fun). Intentional community is not always fun, or relaxing, or easy. Like the other 3 values it takes work and investment. But the payoff is worth it. When I seek new perspectives and enter into new communities, I find that I grow as a person. I am opened up to new ideas and ways of doing things and seeing the world. It's also healthy. I listened to a podcast recently about how not only are humans social creatures, created for community, but that in order to be full and healthy humans we need social networks outside of our immediate families or partnerships. For me, community is not as simple as having a family or having friends. I feel called to go beyond what is familiar.
We see this in our Ignatian tradition. The Jesuits were founded on the principle of going to the mission, venturing into the unknown, wherever the need was. St Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier were close friends when Ignatius sent Xavier across the world. Xavier did not know anyone where he was going, he was the only original companion to ever leave Europe. He had to build new community. Building community in new places was not only essential to his mission and work, but I have to imagine also essential to his own personal wellbeing. We need community to thrive as humans, or else we won't be healthy enough to do the work we are called to. The Jesuits had to build relationships in the new communities they were entering. Community forming and community building was essential to their work and mission as it is ours.
So bringing it back to our lives as FJVs, how do we do this? How does one go about building community after we relocate after a JV year, or years down the road when our job, vocation, life takes us someplace new? One way I tried to do this after my JV year is through continuing to live in actual intentional communities. Yes, they exist outside of a year of service program like JVC! When I eventually moved back to Cincinnati after JVC I got involved in a lay intentional community called the Mac House. When I joined, the Mac House had been running strong for a decade and there were currently 10 other people living together, including a family of 4 with 2 kids plus 6 other single adults in their 20s and 30s. It wasn’t religious in nature, everyone worked different jobs, but we shared the house together, common space, kitchen, meals once a week, had community meetings, and fun community nights as well. It wasn’t overbearing, everyone understood people had various commitments and things going on, but it was a beautiful way to share life together. These types of intentional communities for adults exist all across the country in different forms. Check out the website “Foundation for Intentional Community” and search for one near you!
After many great years in Cincinnati, I recently moved to Buffalo, New York. People who know me know that I hate the snow and cold, and yet, I willingly moved to Buffalo, New York. Not exactly the east Asian continent that St Xavier was missioned to, but a new environment nonetheless. I knew no one here when I moved. Not a soul. So it was community building 101 time again. Despite the snow and cold, Buffalo is a fine place. The people are friendly, the food is good, and they have a lake you can kayak in (just don’t get caught up in the flow of the Niagara River). But it's also a hometown community. Not a lot of new people move into Buffalo, and so finding community can be hard, especially when you aren’t a Bills fan and your former city's team beats them in the playoffs and you wear orange to work the next day.
So again the question, how do we continue to commit to living out community? I don’t have the answer, I don’t think it's easy, nor one magical formula. But I do believe in the importance of it. And even here, in my new, unfamiliar environment, I have seen the beauty of it, the attraction to it, the desire for it that people have. I reached out as a complete stranger to the list of FJVs in the Buffalo area for an informal gathering and people actually showed up! I co-facilitate a discussion group at my new workplace, Canisius College, on Ignatian values and mission and people voluntarily come and make comments about how nice it is just to have lunch with other colleagues they don’t normally see and converse. I see faculty and staff show up to students' events outside of work hours to support them and hang out socially with one another. And on an immersion trip I just accompanied students on to Wheeling, West Virginia, we got to be immersed in a week long community building experience where each of the students formed close bonds with one another and with those we were learning with and from in just a short time.
All that's to say, community is worth it. It's a value of JVC for a reason. It's not just to get us through a year of sharing a house with other humans. It's an integral part of life. Intentional community has taught me the importance of being proximate to people outside my comfortable social network. Community has taught me about myself and exposed me to new perspectives. We can talk about hard things in community. Conversations get deeper, problems can get worked out, walls can come down. It's never perfect, it's rarely easy, but it is enriching. I would not be the person I am today without living in intentional communities. It may be difficult, tiresome, and even feel elusive at times, but it's a value I know I must continue to be intentional about working toward.
Spencer served as a JV with Law Foundation of Silicon Valley in San Jose/Santa Clara, CA from 2016-17. Currently, Spencer works as Director of Campus Ministry at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.