By Sarah S. Howell-Miller
Outside of The Foundry House, there is a wooden sign that indicates the building’s previous use on the campus of Crossnore School & Children’s Home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It designates the building as the William R. Brantley Retreat Center.
Our new intentional community for young adults is housed in part of the building, and it is still referred to as “Brantley” more often than “The Foundry” when talking with Crossnore employees.
But one of our residents picked up on the other part of the building’s name in a poignant way. This resident is a former foster child—we partner with Crossnore’s Youth in Transition program to offer 1-2 resident spots to the young adults they serve who have aged out of foster care—and he acknowledges that his life outside The Foundry has often been chaotic and negative.
So when he said in a reflection on how things were going so far that he felt like The Foundry was what it said on the sign out front—a retreat, a safe space away from the chaos and negativity—that meant something.
Community is all about creating space, both literally and metaphorically.
As The Foundry has gotten started, much of my time as prioress has been consumed with the physical space. The William R. Brantley Retreat Center is an aging building, and we faced challenges getting it ready for residents—light fixtures that got replaced only after one resident moved into his dark room; old plumbing that flooded two bedrooms while it was being worked on; an aging HVAC system whose two-week replacement process happened to coincide with a bitter cold snap in November. We wrestled with the balance between one Advisory Team member’s conviction that the right people for this intentional community wouldn’t care what the space looked like and the reality that it’s hard to make a home when your room floods and the heat doesn’t work.
Now that we’ve turned a corner on building issues, we can focus on creating the other kind of space we need—a retreat that is not just physical but also spiritual, emotional, and relational. We are settling into our rhythms of prayer, meals, and service on Crossnore’s farm. Our residents are working to make the common areas feel more homey so that they’ll spend more time there and less in their individual bedrooms. And we’re stumbling through initial conversations about what it means to make space for one another with a group of residents who are diverse in socioeconomic background, race, sexuality, and theological leanings.
The grace of community in how we make space is like the rubber band that stretches wide but then must be brought back slowly so as not to snap and leave a welt. We stretch ourselves to extend beyond our personal space to create a hospitable communal space, but make room for the introverts among us to take care of themselves; we try to be intentional about recognizing and naming the different assumptions about shared space that our residents bring from their diverse backgrounds; we acknowledge that there is privilege at work in choosing to share space when you don’t have to, and we see how that bumps up against the fact that our Youth in Transition residents often have had much less choice about when and how and with whom to share space.
There is grace in the stretching; there is grace in the coming back together. There is even grace in the snap, the welt, that happens when an unkind word is spoken or dishes are left undone (again), when cultural wires get crossed or two Christians understand the Bible very differently. For in the end, it’s in the stretching that we are bound together in community.
May we all stretch to create space—physical, spiritual, emotional, relational—where we can retreat, together.