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Intentional Communities Replace 60s Communes

Jesus freaks and atheists, revolutionaries and apoliticals, sexually puritanical and promiscuous, you could find just about any type of commune in the 1960s.

Only a few of the original communes are still active, but there is a growing number of “modern” communes—referred to as intentional communities—sprouting up around the nation. These communities are just as diverse as their predecessors.

Three decades have passed since the Jesus Movement communes emerged from the youth counter-culture of the 1960s. An estimated 3,000 of these communes emerged in the 1960s, according to Garry Wills, author of A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government.

Although, the Jesus Movement was founded on faith and Christian values, many secular communes adopted sex, drugs, free love and peace as their rallying cries.

There was a sharp decline in the 1980s, but the Fellowship for Intentional Communities reported a resurgence to several thousand new communities in the 1990s. The FIC, based in Rutledge, Mo., reported 540 intentional communities in North America in the 1995 edition of its Communities Directory—up from 300 in its 1990-91edition. Most of the communities did not want to be listed in the directory.

The FIC draws a distinction between communes and intentional communities. The “commune” describes a particular kind of intentional community that lives “communally” and operates from a common ownership of property. However, most intentional communities are notcommunes, though some of the communities most active in the community movement are.

“An intentional community is a group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values,” explained Geoph Kozeny, a member of FIC and an intentional community in California. Kozeny, who has visited several hundred intentional communities, said they are intergenerational and have diverse reasons for existence.

Even though most intentional communities are not listed, an estimated 54 percent of those that are in the 1995 Communities Directory are located in rural areas, 28 percent are in urban locations and 10 percent have both rural and urban campuses.

Kozeny said the primary values around which these communities develop are broad. Some members rally around ecology, simple lifestyles, technology that is environmentally friendly, spirituality and the pursuit of global peace.

However, like many of the Jesus Communes of the 1960s, most groups are founded for spiritual and religious reasons.

Jesus People USA is one of only a few communal groups to survive intact. After 25 years, JPUSA is still located at the same address in Chicago, and they now number around 500.

JPUSA is now part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, a denomination of more than 600 Canadian and U.S. churches. Swedish immigrants formed the church in 1885 as a voluntary covenant of churches committed to working together to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  JPUSA members pool resources and efforts in their ministry to the homeless, elderly, battered women, minorities and other groups.

Two once-prominent Christian communities, Koinonia Farm and Sojourners, are still in existence but no longer operate as communes.

Koinonia began in 1942, when Clarence and Florence Jordan and Mabel and Martin England moved to Georgia to form an interracial community where blacks and whites could live and work together in a spirit of partnership. Koinonia Farm ran counter to the racism of the times, but became a prophetic voice during the Civil Rights Movement.

Koinonia Partners, as is it called today, is no longer considered an “intentional community” commune that shares a common treasury. Like most non-profit organizations, it is incorporated with a board of directors, staff and volunteers. While the structure has changed, Koinonia the organization continues to partner with other entities that work for justice and equality. An example is Habitat for Humanity, which began as one of Clarence Jordan’s ideas.

The Sojourners Community is now Sojourners Ministry. Located in an inner-city neighborhood in Washington, D.C., this group began at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., in the early 1970s with a group of students who opposed the Vietnam War.

The students lived together in common households, had a common purse, formed a worshipping community, got involved in neighborhood issues, organized national events on behalf of peace and justice and published Sojourners magazine.

About a decade ago, Sojourners split during a conflict partially over communal lifestyles. Jim Wallis has become somewhat critical of the movement he once led.

Wallis came to believe that families, especially children, needed more privacy to develop intimacy. The household communities became an intentional community with a common rule of life rather than a common treasury and shared property. The neighborhood center became a separate non-profit organization, and people moved out of the community to care for their own families.

Most of the people who currently work for Sojourners magazine were never part of the original community. Sojourners ministries are more diverse and modern including a Web site, published resources, preaching, teaching and organizing other groups to perform ministries around spiritual renewal and social justice.

Though most operate as a democracy (on the political spectrum), members of intentional communities tend to be left of center.

In terms of lifestyle choices, Kozeny said they tend to be idealistic, hard working, concerned about world peace, health conscious, environmentally concerned and family oriented. They tolerate options for their own members without limiting the choices of others.

Will these new “intentional communities” be intact in 30 years? According to a Beliefnet.com poll, most people do not think they will make it. Forty-seven percent said groups like these come and go, while another 34 percent said they would die out like most of the communes of the 1960s.

Ray Furr is a freelance writer and operates his own communications/marketing business in Poquoson, Va.