Last weekend my partner and I visited friends in Manchester, two couples with young children who live in intentional community. We got to witness some of the ins and outs of communal living, especially the joys and challenges that small children bring to the community dynamic.

 

We were struck by the ways devotion and liturgy were as much a practical part of the house routine as putting out the compost. They shared their house grace with us (a song from the Iona community), and their practice of lighting a candle at meal times. A name of a person or place was drawn from a small basket, giving us a focus for prayer before the meal.

 

We learned of their discovery that an essential aspect of communal living was to have weekly meetings, something we’ve really always known but never managed to achieve. They’ve also discovered that as families they need separate living spaces as well as communal areas.

 

As part of their exploration of communal life, our friends have formed a relationship with the Darvell community, visiting each other in a sort of communal exchange programme. Our friend Ben coined the phrase ‘community/communal intelligence’, being aware of when to do jobs, when to give yourself and other people space etc. When the Darvell community members came to visit, they displayed community intelligence to the extent that an already full house felt more spacious, even with the addition of two extra adults.

 

We learn communal intelligence only from living in community, something we rarely have the opportunity to do. Thinking back to my time at University, this was the first opportunity a lot of us had to learn it, and was possibly the most important lesson University had to teach us. I remember hearing that the state of our communal kitchen in halls caused the cleaner to break down in tears. In my third year, a friend and I left a chicken carcass to rot in fridge until our rightly angry vegan housemate had to clean it up. Tobias Jones, one of our gurus on community living, writes that it’s the seemingly insignificant day to day domesticity and different ideas of what constitutes intolerable mess that are at the heart of conflict in the home. In a culture were communal living as adults, as married couples, as parents of young children, is viewed as a very odd lifestyle choice, how do we foster the communal intelligence vital for domestic peacemaking?

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