What Happened When We Started Our Own Intentional Community?

Melinda interviews Pat about her experiences starting an intentional community in the 1970s

 

Video transcript:

MELINDA
In this episode of our series on intentional community, I’m interviewing Pat Landsel who, along with her husband Ron and several other couples, started an intentional community down in Long Island, New York back in the 1970s. So Pat, do you mind describing for me sort of when you first encountered the concept of intentional community and was that a completely new thought to you?

PAT
Yes, it was a completely new thought. I was living a very normal, young–mother life. I was raised Catholic, so I had some spiritual roots, and in the late 70s there was what they call the charismatic movement. There was charismatic for the Catholics, Pentecostal for the Protestants, and Jews for Christ for the Jewish people even. It just all happened at once. It wasn’t like somebody planned it. It was a movement of the Holy Spirit, through the movements, conferences, and prayer groups across the country. I grew up on Long Island, so it was on Long Island the concept of community came up. When I heard it myself, I felt like, honestly, something in my heart said, “Yes, of course, this makes sense with the Gospel.” And my husband and I talked about it, and friends from our prayer groups. Some people didn't think that was necessary. Some people thought this is maybe what we should do. “Let’s pursue it; this is the call. We’re trying to follow Jesus now. Let’s find out more.” So we started discussing it, going to conferences, as I said. That’s where I first heard the concept of community, knowing nothing about what that was gonna mean, of course.

MELINDA
Do you mind describing for me the community that you were part of? You know, what did that look like practically?

PAT
First, we started out praying in house groups on the weekends. We would meet and bring all the children and pray together. And then I heard about this group that was intentionally trying to find out what did this mean, this call to community, and do we all live in one house and so on and so on. So we did eventually do that. Through a lot of prayer and a lot of agony and a lot of people, of course, being upset with each other. There were four of us that left and moved up to a house up in Schoharie, farther up in the mountains than I am now. Very beautiful farm that we rented, seeing how it would go because if we went forward in this, we would all have to leave our jobs, our security of having our health coverage, you know. That’s a big thing, of course, and jobs. Because we lived in one household, we met together all the time. You know, there would be certain times that we would give just to the children. There would be certain times for the adults to pray together and very soon it came up about the leadership and that’s where a lot of people didn’t even think that we would have to decide which person was gonna be the leader and guide us, because there wasn’t anybody that gave us that pastoral feeling. We were more sort of just jumping in together and trying to follow a call. It was very, very joyful and we were in love with what had happened to our lives because we gave our lives to Christ.

MELINDA
What were the most rewarding parts about living in intentional community with other people?

PAT
The children. I guess the children would be first. It’s not as rewarding, I would say, as a bigger community like I’ve joined now. It was also new and fortunately we had a beautiful place where the children could run out and be with the wildlife, and we had enough children, because we were all small families. Any happiness was when we were all together and we even had people from the wider neighborhood that came to join us, so we were pretty sure this was a God thing, you know. When we were all together with all the children and all the young parents. We were all young. It was very, very wonderful and joyful and uplifting, and we felt we were doing what we were supposed to do in our hearts for sure.

MELINDA
What were some of the more challenging aspects for you?

PAT
The challenges were personalities, of course. I naively thought that we’re all gonna just be happy, you know? It's gonna be all different... But we all had different ideas. Even though we had prayed together on Long Island for so long. We didn’t know it until we were under the same roof. It was a big house and we all had a different part, like apartments. Very similar to what we have at the Bruderhof.

MELINDA
So, obviously, at some point, your intentional community ended and then what happened after that?

PAT
It was almost a year we stayed together and then it didn’t. But in the meantime, we had visited the Bruderhof because we were so close vision-wise. I thought it was wonderful. Of course, it was all set up and there were lots of families. And so when this didn’t work out for us, I'll just speak for my family, we decided “let’s stop at the Bruderhof because it’s on the way back to Long Island, and if we go back to Long Island maybe we’ll never do this again.” So we came here to visit and we never left, because we had let go of everything anyway, but we were also taken by what we experienced. And then slowly the other families would hear what, I would write them letters, because we didn’t have computers or anything, and I had to write them letters and say, "This is what’s happening. This is what we were thinking about,” you know. And they all started coming up one at a time. The four couples that did join the community from that group are still with us today, and the other couples just lost the hope. And the Bruderhof isn’t Catholic. We were all Catholics. It isn’t Catholic, so some didn't go for it for that reason.

MELINDA
Do you have any thoughts about intentional communities that are not started on a religious basis? Like there’s a lot of ecovillages, co-housing situations where the purpose or the goal is not at all religious.

PAT
Well, I know from our time, there was many groups very similar and some of them lasted a long time, but eventually without God as the center that was as far as they could go. You know, I don’t like to judge a person that’s trying to do something good in our world. I think God is with them even if they’re not saying the word God. When your intention is good, then it’s gonna take you somewhere. I’m not one that gets turned off by labels. You could see the fruits of the community, you know, that’s a word that Jesus uses, the fruits, and you can decide from that.

MELINDA
There's been renewed interest recently in intentional community, and some statistics say that about 90% of intentional communities fail, so do you have any advice for young people who might be interested in the concept of intentional community or are looking to start one themselves or join one that they know of? Do you have any advice for those young people?

PAT
I would say go with your heart. You know, I think community is definitely not something that’s easy to live out, but it’s not meant to be, and I wouldn’t say that to a young person particularly, but if you’re really committed to Christ and you’re trying to follow Him in your own heart, you know, the Holy Spirit speaks to all of us, and I think you’ll be led. You’ll be led to something that works. That’s what I think. If you’re really, really sincere and don’t at the first barrier or the first crisis say, “Oh this doesn’t work, forget it.” Yeah, it’s a hard... I think it’s a journey that God calls us to, definitely, and if they feel called to it, or if it is just something they think is a great idea in this world because it’s a difficult world to live in, to live with Christians would be a marvelous idea. Yeah, it would be and it would be something that would insulate their lives, but there’s also more to it. Learn how to listen to Christ in your heart, the Holy Spirit in your heart, and I think He will lead you, but it has to be sincere.

MELINDA
Thank you very much, Pat. I enjoyed talking with you today and I hope you all enjoyed listening in on our conversation. And so, if you’re interested in seeing more videos from us and following up on more of the videos in this series, please like this video and subscribe and ring the bell for updates every time we upload.