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JPUSA visit, part 1

(part of an ongoing series about activities during my sabbatical)

Shortly after my sabbatical began, we (Christine, Carlina, Ana,Axel, and I) headed to Chicago to spend 5 days with Jesus People USA (JPUSA).

JPUSA is a church in the Evangelical Covenant Church, but is in some ways very different than many other churches. This is how they describe themselves on their website: “We are a church family of nearly 200 people living together in intentional community, sharing a 10-story building in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.”

Imagine an apartment building where all the people there are in your church, or to put it another way, all the people in your church live in the same apartment building. (There are two floors that affordable housing for those over 55 that are not part of JPUSA; these are maintained and operated by JPUSA as a mission business, more on that later) That’s what JPUSA looks like.

The apartments they live in have been converted into what they call “tiny homes”, each one customized by the people living there. Some have hung their beds from the ceiling, others use “Murphy beds” to maximize their space. Families sometimes have multiple rooms as these were originally old hotel rooms and so not very large. As we toured and saw many of the rooms I wondered what it would be like to reduce my possessions to the point where they could all fit in one room. What would be hardest to part with? What would I want to keep? How would this free me?

The community also shares their meals together. Every evening, there is a dinner prepared in the cafeteria to which all are invited. It’s served cafeteria style and everyone comes and goes on their own schedule. Community members serve in rotations to cook, wash dishes, and clean up afterwards. Breakfast is a continental style (cereal, toast, etc) and lunch is a remix of the previous night’s dinner. There are kitchens on each floor where people can prepare their own food if they choose. As a family we talked about our thoughts on this way of eating. On the downside, you didn’t have control over your menu. On the upside, there were many days you didn’t have to shop, cook, or clean up. How might you use the extra time to serve others?

This is in part the blessing of this type of intentional community - the sharing of tasks allows each person to do what they are gifted in, freeing others to use their gifts. So, there were some people who did all the shopping, others were the regular cooks. That meant many people had that extra time to do other things, perhaps serving as maintenance, or coordinators, or working in some of the various ministries.

There are a number of ministries that JPUSA operates; they do more than just live together, they serve together, with a particular focus on serving the poor. They operate a homeless shelter, which includes places for the people to sleep, a cafeteria where they are served meals, and a free store which provides them clothing. Many members of Jesus People work as directors, caseworkers, program managers, and regular volunteers to provide care for people experiencing homelessness.

As a family, we served at Cornerstone Community Outreach (their ministry to the homeless), helping prepare meals and also sorting clothes in the free store. We had a lot of fun serving together, whether it was sorting through piles of clothes or chopping up food in the kitchen. JPUSA hosts groups throughout the year and if anyone is interested, I would like to take some folks for a trip, perhaps next year. It’s a great place to serve and has the advantage of being relatively close and opportunities for those of all ages and skills to serve.

JPUSA also operates a number of “Mission Businesses”; these businesses not only support the ministries of JPUSA but are also a way to show God’s love to the community through their interactions with others, providing jobs and places to hang out. There are 10 businesses including a coffee shop, record company, roofing and siding company, a skate shop, and Friendly Towers (the affordable housing mentioned earlier).

There are many stories to tell but for now the one thing I want to share is the question our host, Tom, asked us several times - what does intentional community look like for you? Or, what are you doing to build intentional community? Here at Fruitland, we don’t all live in the same building, or even the same zip code, but what are ways we can foster intentional community?

I think sometimes we hope it will just happen, or we think it simply happens. It can, but I also believe we need to be intentional, creating the times and spaces to make it happen. To be sure, we need to define what we mean by community. I think that in part is pictured by Paul which speaks of a body, with each doing their part. For each church, the expression of that will be different. What might it look like for us?

How can we share our time and resources? How can we challenge ourselves beyond Sunday morning to live out the call of Jesus and grow in compassion and grace? Are there ways for us to simplify and share resources? This is one that I have pondered for a while, reflecting on how much stuff we all have and that much of what we have are things we infrequently use. I also have heard of ways that churches have shared meal preparation together. I don’t know if any of those are right for us, but the starting place is to begin with the question of what are we doing to be intentional about forming community?

We were blessed by our time with the people of JPUSA and thankful for their ministry and example.

I will share next week about a couple of the other experiences while we were there and some additional reflections.

If you want to learn more about JPUSA - their ministries and mission businesses, you can find them on the web here at

May the LORD bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you.

Carl Franzon, Pastor