Part 3 in a series. Read Part 1.
In 1955, James Luther Adams published an article titled “Notes on the Study of Gould Farm,” a short piece on an intentional community in western Massachusetts (Gould Farm is no longer an intentional community and now houses a rehabilitation program for mentally ill adults). In his laudatory description of the community at Gould Farm, Adams could be talking about one of the “new monasteries” that are cropping up today:
For over forty years Gould Farm has been that unique thing which today is called an “intentional community”; it is a deliberately formed community in which people live together sharing, receiving, and incarnating religious visions. Adams, ed. Engels (1986), 254
As Adams describes Gould Farm, we can imagine how his words could possibly apply (although in a less intense manner) to certain liberal churches:
Gould Farm is a fellowship not only for the inner “family” of members who maintain the community. It is open to “outsiders,” to people who in distress of mind or spirit wish for a time to participate in a community of affection that gives renewed meaning and depth to life. Gould Farm, in short, is a therapeutic community. It does not live merely for itself, as many intentional communities have done. It is a “self-transcending” community. To all sorts of people it offers healing, the healing that can only emerge, as William Gould believed and showed, in the atmosphere of harmony and mutual aid which characterizes the true family. The Farm has been a haven not only for those who in sickness of spirit desperately needed the fellowship that is new life but also for those who, like the many refugees from Europe of the past two decades, needed a place in which to get new bearings and a new start in a strange land. Adams, ed. Engels (1986), 255
Adams may well be excessively laudatory in his article on Gould Farm; elsewhere he is quite clear about the pathologies of voluntary associations, and intentional residential communities seem to be prone to more than their share of pathologies. Nevertheless, he description identifies several characteristics we should look for in intentional religious communities:
- the community is deliberately formed and maintained
- in the community, people share and receive
- the community incarnates religious visions
- the community does not live merely for itself; it is self-transcending
- there is an inner circle or “family” and…
- others who need to be part of a community of affection for a time are also welcome
- healing takes place in the community
- the community can serve as a refuge
While Adams is specifically talking about a residential community in this article, in practice these characteristics may also apply to certain kinds of non-residential intentional communities. There may be some liberal churches which can boast of all these characteristics; these would be true intentional communities, albeit non-residential communities. Indeed, I would argue that these characteristics should be part of the ideal for a certain kind of liberal church.