Since early August last year, PCPJ:er Micael Grenholm lives in a Christian intentional community in Kettering, central England, called Holy Treasure. Erica Ramirez interviewed him about what it’s like to live and share income with nine other people.
Micael, can you explain to me your living arrangement, both in domestic terms and economic terms?
Holy Treasure is part of something called New Creation Christian Community (NCCC) which in turn is part of the Jesus Fellowship Church, or Jesus Army. NCCC is at the core of Jesus Army, basically every local congregation is based around a community house, and almost a quarter of all church members live in community.
I work at one of the church’s businesses called Goodness Foods with video making. All my wages are sent to the bank account of Holy Treasure, the ”common purse”, which then provides me with all the food, clothing and transport I need.
How do you split the rent, utilities and food bills?
We have complete community of goods so that nobody in the community is richer than another, just like on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:44-45). A man I spoke to said ”I haven’t seen a bill in thirty years!” Every local community have one or several treasurer that takes care of all the expenses. Simplicity and equality are core values. There’s even a Food Distribution Centre at one of the oldest communities, New Creation Hall in Bugbrooke, that makes sure that the food communities get is cheap and that everyone get a fair share of what’s available.
Whom do you live with at the moment?
We are eleven people now in the community: two married couples, three single men, two single women and then me and my girlfriend Sarah who stay with the single men and single women respectively. Ages range from 25 to 74 years old. On top of that, an additional 40 people belong to the local congregation and many of them come visit and help out during the week.
I notice you mentioned participants being aged 25-74. Are there any community houses which incorporate children?
Oh, yes. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, most do. The Jesus Army has put a lot of effort in safeguarding their communities to make them good and secure places for children to grow up in. The presence of children naturally makes the communities more colorful, exciting – and a bit wild and messy sometimes.
For how long will you stay there?
Later this spring Sarah and I will move back to Sweden, where we come from, and start a common purse community there with some friends of ours. We have started an organisation called the Jerusalem Project that aims to promote community of goods, especially in evangelical and charismatic churches. We think it’s very unfortunate and strange that this apostolic way of doing church has become so extremely rare among those who want to live biblically.
What are things you like about this arrangement? Things you dislike?
I love the fellowship, friendship and relationships that this kind of living produces. It is so much easier both to be trained as a disciple and to train others when church isn’t merely an activity a few hours a week but something that you actually live 24/7. What I’m missing though is more evangelism and a frequent usage of Spiritual gifts. The Jesus Army was birthed in charismatic revival in the 1970’s and so this was commonplace in the early years, but recently the movement has become quite stale – something they’re perfectly aware of.
What do you think you have learned from it, and how does it reflect and affect your faith?
The most important lesson is that community works, not just in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago but today in a Western society. Some if these people have been having everything in common for 40 years and still think it’s an excellent way of life. My prayer is that more Pentecostals and charismatics will recognize that having community of goods is just as Pentecostal and Biblical as speaking in tongues, so that we will see more of economic Pentecostalism around the world.
Are there ever quarrels within the group? How do those get resolved?
Ideally, conflicts and quarrels should be dealt with like Jesus described in Matthew 18. First, speak privately with the person you have a conflict with and try to resolve it. If it doesn’t work, involve some other community member and if that doesn’t work, involve the whole community. Sometimes, mistakes are made and things that should have been dealt with in private are brought up in the open. In a community, it often becomes very obvious how people feel on the inside and how they treat one another. The whole group need to continuously submit themselves to the Lord and develop humility and love for one another.
How do you access healthcare? In the US our healthcare until recently was predominantly work-based and extended to spouses and children for the most part. Is a European healthcare system easier to access from a community-living arrangement?
Everyone get the health care they need through the National Health Service (NHS). Since Brexit have not gone into force yet, I receive free health care as a EU citizen because that’s what my home country would provide for me. I’m not entirely sure how American intentional communities solve it, but something tells me that they’d make sure that everyone are covered.
Like you, Micael, I have noticed how rare your situation is, being primarily a biblical record and not commonly practiced today. What I observe in the US setting is a legal visibility of marriage as the basis of community. The marriage contract is the predominant manner in which you could share your healthcare goods, your financial estate, and it is seemingly the unit around which housing became organized, “single-family housing.” I think living in community, as a living arrangement, maybe challenges the taken-for-granted status of nuclear, kinship based organization of society. Is that what you guys are trying to do?
David Janzen points out in his excellent work The Intentional Christian Community Handbook that the nuclear family as we understand it today – a father, mother and two to three children living in a house or big apartment – is an extremely recent phenomenon. For most of human history, and indeed in most cultures around the world today, the family often includes grandparents, cousins, friends, servants, and others. Sadly, many nuclear families don’t last but result in divorce and separation, and even those that last often experience stress and anxiety as two people quite frankly are too few to raise children and organize a household.
We’re not against that people marry and conceive children, but we do think that communities in most cases can help and support families. We also think it’s a problem that so many households just consist of one to five people. This worsens housing shortage which leads to homelessness. We also think that more communities are needed as climate change and environmental problems grow stronger and the need for resilient, self-sustaining hubs increases. Most importantly, communities are needed because it’s a Biblical way of living that nurtures simplicity and equality, and in this capitalist age of ours those values are more needed than ever.