Living Stones: Building Community

Saint Philip’s is blessed with a beautiful campus – with stunning views of the mountains, sky, and greenery.  It is just as blessed with a beautiful community filled with people of stunning faith, joyful exuberance, and loving-kindness. 

We have an opportunity in front of us (to the north of us to be more precise) to nurture both of these kinds of beauty that define Saint Philip’s.  We have the opportunity to build community, create stability for people looking for a new home, and provide fiscal stability that can secure the mission of this community long into its future. 

We can ensure that the property adjoining our own is developed in a way that enhances our mission, reflects the natural and architectural beauty of our campus, and creates a new kind of home for intergenerational learning, service, and creativity.

A Village

One of the things so many people miss sooner than they realize it is running into friends and family of all ages just walking down the street to the post-office or to the market.  This is a real loss as people become more and more isolated and lose the sense that we – all people – are connected and that we need one another.  This is the strength of a village where the day-to-day sharing, working, and praying of life are done alongside your children and their children.  I think we all miss villages where elders and toddlers and everyone in between gather together to make meaning and share their hopes for and with one another.

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When Saint Philip’s was designed the intent was to evoke this same sense – we were to be a church at the center of a village.  A church not removed in a kind of drowsy loneliness but a church in the middle of the hustle and bustle of markets.  A church where games of tag and hide-and-seek pop up, where birds are fed, cats toyed with, and the strumming of some instrument’s strings or another meddles, then merges, with murmured prayers.

Churches have long been the beating heart of villages where people of great means and none at all met and prayed together.  Churches are where the stuff of life and the stuff of life’s end are held in tension.  They are the place where you can meet a blushing bride and later that same day say goodbye to an uncle you wish you had known better.  They are the place where God is found in the unlikeliest ways.

A village church is a place where meaning can be found on a human scale.  They are places where the whole gathered people of God can see, know, and feel love’s true light.  This happens so often in the in-between times – in the chance run-ins with family and friends that happen as we come and go about life.  The scale and pace of our lives are now such that those chances for love to quicken are reduced as we scurry in cars, bury ourselves in phones, and distract ourselves from the present moment. 

This is the cost of moving from the village.

Creating Community

The opportunity we now have is to create the village – to build community.  The Church is not really about development projects or fiscal reports or the like.  The Church is the gathered body of the faithful giving word and witness to the hope that is in us.  The Church offers a place where real relationships flourish in a culture where people are dying of loneliness – where we are isolating children through technological addiction and elders through benign neglect or worse.

My hope is that we can create a wider and truer community here by developing the grounds north of us in such a way that relationships are kindled, mentoring is a way of life, and the dignity of every person is cherished.  My hope is that this would be a community where we jump across intergenerational divides and bridge the gaps between us.  This is holy work – it is the work we are called to in scripture over and over.  We are called to break down the walls that separate and to find in one another hope and joy. 

This can be a community of holy listening where we hear and tell the stories that have shaped our minds and hearts and be part of the shaping and forming of a generation of teachers, healers, and story-tellers.

Generation to Generation

PBS ran a recent story about nursing homes in the Netherlands where students live alongside elders.  The report says, “In exchange for small, rent-free apartments, the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands, requires students to spend at least 30 hours per month acting as ‘good neighbors.’ Officials at the nursing home say students do a variety of activities with the older residents, including watching sports, celebrating birthdays and, perhaps most importantly, offering company when seniors fall ill, which helps stave off feelings of disconnectedness.”

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The results have been not just medical, emotional, and psychological – the results have been deeper relationships between people who are learning and making meaning together.  This kind of creativity is at the heart of God’s hope for us – that we might be more fully alive.

A recent article in The Atlantic focused on the experience of a pre-school that is located within a senior care facility.  The article reads, “Five days a week, residents and staff share the 300,000 square-foot facility with up to 125 children, ages zero to five. These children and their teachers make up the Mount’s Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC), a licensed nonprofit child-care center and preschool established on the Mount’s premises in 1991.  The program was designed to counterbalance the loneliness and boredom that so often characterize life in a nursing facility.”

Affordable housing for college students is scarce and getting worse.  The Episcopal chaplain at the university reports students living out of their cars because they can’t afford rent – it is sadly not rare.  The Smithsonian magazine reported on a way that college students are living in community with elders and said, “Studies have shown that there are huge health benefits to the elderly—from fighting dementia to regulating blood pressure —that come from social contact with younger people. Meanwhile, college students are struggling with increasing college debts and housing costs.”

In a time when affordable housing, real relationships, and intergenerational opportunities are all scarce we could pioneer a return to something we know so well – being a church at the heart of a village.

Bringing it Together

The wonderful fact is that there are so many pieces, relationships, experiences, and more that make this project feasible and achievable.

Tucson is growing and the need for housing that is affordable, safe, and well-designed is real both for the elderly and students.  The church campus offers a ready venue for a whole range of enrichment opportunities for the community’s residents.  The opportunity to construct shared-use space that could give us larger gathering places and venues for a variety of events could be included in the project. 

The After School Music and Homework Program would provide an accessible hands-on way for residents of the community to connect and share their wisdom.  The Beginning School is located on campus and could be a wonderful partner in developing the “pre-school in a retirement community” that The Atlantic article outlined.

We have good relationships with the university and their focus on experiential learning could make this an ideal partnership opportunity and give us the chance to help address the need for affordable student housing.  We have a range of social, religious, and health-related activities that already happen on campus that could be of real benefit to seniors such as pottery classes, senior exercise, spiritual direction, concerts, and so much more.

We have experienced developers in our congregation who have long histories of bringing projects from conception to construction.  We have architects who love the beauty of our campus who can be a critical part of helping guide the design.  We have health care providers who can assist with planning a community that is life-giving and caring.