Earlier this year, I was fortunate in having enough leisure time to accompany a fellow worker down to Emmaus House in Chicago, Illinois. Lincoln Rice had been invited for a talk about his work, Healing the Racial Divide, a book that looks at the anti-racism work of Dr. Arthur Falls in the Chicago area.
We spent the night comparing stories of bed bugs, finances, neighbors, and future schemes. The next day, Frank showed us around the house. Like a classic Catholic Worker house, we witnessed rooms under repair with stories of future usage plans and other spaces already in good use.
Most impressive to me: the beehive in the stairwell. Excellently designed for allowing bees to freely pollinate the neighborhood, while also staying warm and showcasing the busy insects to interested individuals.
As a guinea pig in this new series, Frank Bergh gamely answered a few questions about his community and experience with communal living.
How did Emmaus House come into existence?
Emmaus House was founded in July 2012 as an intentional Christian community in North Lawndale, Chicago with a commitment to racial justice and affiliated with the Catholic Worker Movement. The founding members had been meeting for 3-8 months beforehand to develop communal practices/expectations, learn from North Lawndale neighbors/elders, join community organizations, worship in local churches, and understand the history of racial oppression. A long-time community organizer and neighborhood hero invited us to rent the upstairs apartment of his house and we decided to move in.
How does your community economically sustain itself?
All of us either work full time or are full time students. We pay a fixed percentage of our income into a common account that covers mortgage, utilities, groceries, home repairs, and additional money for community investments in causes we believe in.
Is there a purpose or mission to Emmaus House? What is it?
Emmaus House is focused on racial justice and social justice and rooted in the gospel story of the Road to Emmaus: we practice “hospitality” to strangers, “accompaniment” with guests, and “hearts aflame” with commitment to justice and spirituality.
Your favorite thing about living communally?
Living in community really expands the possibilities of my life. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and we can do so much more together than any of us could do individually. Additionally, community members are really invested in one another’s emotional growth and accountability.
How do you balance life at Emmaus House with life outside?
The community really extends and broadens my outside work in community organizing, social justice, and activism. It also offers me a spiritual equilibrium that is not static—community members challenge one another in ways that are growth-filled and unifying, which is a strong contrast with the individualism of our national culture.
How does living in community effect your world view?
We’re all in this together. Much stronger ethos of collaboration and companionship.
Is this a long-term situation for you? What does the future of Emmaus House look like?
Yes, I’ve been living here for 4.5 years, no plans of moving. Even more exciting, wider lens, holy mischief…
Any advice for others looking to create a communal home?
So much advice. Most of all, establish relationships with neighbors before moving into their neighborhood. Demonstrate that you’re committed to being part of the wider community including volunteer roles and unglamorous participation in community events before taking up space in the neighborhood, especially if you’re white passing folks moving into a community of color. Be mindful of gentrification and displacement.