Every Monday night we here at the GAPS Community at Downey Moravian Church sit down together to share a meal. As you might imagine, most aspects of our life together in intentional community involve some level of intentionality and purpose. But the lens that provides us with much of our focus and direction is this weekly house meal when we gather to reflect on where we have been, to plot and plan for where we are going, and to freely imagine the new paths that we might forge together.
There is much to reflect on when we consider what GAPS has become within the context of our Downey, California home. We have established a rhythm of outreach activities. Twice weekly we redistribute rescued food (fresh, healthy food which would have otherwise been discarded) to local families. We also use it to prepare our free, healthy Open Table meal every Thursday. It even makes up a large percentage of the food that we prepare for ourselves at home!
In addition to our food ministries, we have also established ourselves as a community that deeply values art and music. We host a weekly Art Night, a time when older teens and adults are welcome to join us at the GAPS house in any number of projects. The little ones in our community are invited to explore their own creativity with us during our weekly MorArt ‘n Music Class.
Even as we continue with the work that has come to define the GAPS presence in Downey, we are actively engaged in emerging projects and ministries. In January we partnered with local homeless outreach agencies to help lead Downey Counts, an initiative to identify our homeless neighbors, assess their needs and get them housed. In a few short months we have developed relationships with dozens of our homeless neighbors, moved eight into their own private housing and furnished a six-bedroom/four-bathroom house that was purchased by one of our partner agencies to serve as transitional housing for multiple homeless families.
While much of our community focus is directed outward, some of the newness that we have been experiencing at GAPS is much closer to home. We have developed the practice of nightly vespers when, even if we have all been going in different directions all day, we make an effort to gather and reflect. We share with each other the moments from our day for which we are most grateful and, when we need to, the rough spots, too. We follow this time of sharing with reading, reflection and song. Vespers keeps us connected—to ourselves, to each other and to our evolving experiences of faith.
As we live into these new expressions of our community life, we all feel excitement about continuing to imagine ourselves and our lives together in new ways. Lately, we have taken to asking big questions about the ways in which the GAPS Community might continue to grow and change in the coming years.
How can we expand on our identity as a house of hospitality? Perhaps, just as some high school students take a gap year before college to explore the world’s possibilities and discover more about themselves, people could take a “GAPS year” at turning points in their lives. It could be, like the traditional gap year, students between high school and college. But it could also be someone entering a period of discernment between careers, or a clergy person in need of sabbatical.
How can we build cooperative relationships that extend beyond our local community? We have imagined the possibility of cultivating intentional relationships with congregations across the country and across the world, developing close, ongoing ties of relationship, encouragement and mutual support.
Finally, how can we make our experiments in community and outreach more readily available to those who might want to know more? Among the many ideas we’ve discussed are a dedicated GAPS website, regular video updates, and an open source forum for sharing our resources and models for outreach. It’s our hope that, by cultivating these open lines of communication with the larger Moravian world, we can learn from each other, exploring together new ways of being the church.
As we continue to gather for our Monday night meals, eager to imagine new ways to be in community with each other and with our friends and neighbors, we invite you to join the discussion. You are welcome at our table.
Jaime Van Nostrand is the Psalmist in Residence at the GAPS Community in Downey, Calif. She is a part-time nanny for two girls and spends her time at GAPS in poetry, and in creating, performing and teaching music. She is a member at Palmer Moravian Church in Easton, Pa.
From the September 2013 Moravian Magazine