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Why do some intentional communities fail to start?

Why do some intentional communities fail to start?

Photo Christopher Gregory for the New York Times

Inspired by 18th century Moravian brothers, two men tried to start a commune of ‘Harmonists’ and failed. The New York Times profiled these two aspirants and their dream of recreating a Colonial-era farming settlement united by a common spirituality.

They weren’t sure what type of spirituality to base the commune on, and struggled to articulate their ideals; between the lack of a clear, communicated vision and the difficulty of farming with Colonial-era techniques and tools, their 63 acre experiment never attracted any members and these days serves as a home where the men write books and display their antiques.

Writer Penelope Green documents their meeting as two young gay men in Salt Lake City, at a consciousness-raising group in the 1970s, and the challenges and joys they experienced learning to farm while holding jobs and negotiating bigotry and kindness from their neighbors.

From the article:

There were moments of incredible joy. The day they completed the reconstruction of what they called the community house, an 18th-century log cabin with a marvelous peaked roof that they rescued from an industrial park and that took 10 years to remake. Eating outside with the animals. (“They were like our family,” Johannes said. “But they did eat all the flowers.”)

But there was menace, too. This rural township was not overwhelmingly welcoming to two young gay men and their dreams to populate a fledgling farm. They always knew when the bars closed. They would hear engines revving, and the shouts would begin: “We’re going to kill you.” “Go home.”

The men did find temporary members over the years, but found that most either weren’t interested in helping with the farm, or simply didn’t stay. They are now looking for a publisher for their second book, a comedic memoir about their lives. Their first book, The Big Book of Flax, is a comprehensive guide to the history of flax.

There are over 2,500 intentional communities listed at the Fellowship for Intentional Community website. Communities range from the traditionally religious monastic to more free-wheeling, counter-culture inspired ecological villages and agricultural faiths like the modern Harmonists profiled in the Times. What do you think is so enduring about the idea of an intentional community? Why do you think they start and sometimes fail?

What do you think the two should title their planned memoir?


Posted by David Streever


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Geoff McLarney

Interesting that they met in the 70s in SLC: this would probably have been right after the collapse of a short-lived gay Mormon communal sect in Denver, the United Order Family of Christ.

David Murray

Intentional community; a great idea, but there they generally end. The problem – most like to talk more than do, and you really need do need to work as much (if not more) than talk.

Interesting on the Anglican matter in Mexico. Still – have thr right people handle the books – AND also require an outsider to check them.

David Allen

Wow, I can so relate to this! I had a similar experience in Mexico.

Bro David

David Allen

OK, after reading the full article, it is very different. After the death of my long time partner, I tried to start a community of men, but there was no mention of sexual orientation. (Sex and agrarian life sounds like a fertility cult!) We weren’t going to try to live in a bygone era, but a disciplined life in the modern day.

However, those men in Mexico looking for a disciplined life in community are few and far between. It also didn’t help that the bishop of the Northern Diocese, to whom I made my vows, Germán Martínez Márquez, is a liar and a thief, defrauding the diocese of over $1 million, possibly $2 million. The next bishop wanted nothing to do with me unless I was just a financial contributor as a regular member of a local parish.

(That embarrassing story of the Anglican Church of Mexico’s recent past can be found here;

So today I live a quiet disciplined life as an Anglican solitary.

Bro David

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