Over the past few months in my new position as minister of Trinity Church I have been privileged to meet with a variety of people who are struggling in one way or another with issues of security and specifically secure housing. I have understood these concerns to be both spiritual and practical (as if those two are separate?) and have grown in my own ministry by grappling with all the facets of these questions. I have heard of the term “food insecure” in relationship to people who do not have enough food to feed themselves and their family. Now I am learning about “shelter insecure.” Here is an article that I wrote for our local newspaper about this real and increasingly common insecurity and how new ways of “home making” are emerging through this struggle. It was titled Living In Place.
Dorrie and I came to Shelburne Falls in November, just as people were starting to huddle in their homes to keep out of the cold weather. Now that spring has sprung and folks are out on their stoops and walking in town or out in the beautiful recreational areas, I am getting to know who is who and what is what. I am learning whose sister is married to whom, whose son works where, who used to live in this house or that, what life used to be like and what people fear and hope about the future. I am also seeing what it is that brings people to this area and how many people leave and then come back home to settle again. All this is helping me get to know West County not just as “any place” but as your and my place.
Maybe it is my age or maybe it is my new location and position, but not too long ago I was talking with people about caring for young children and about work stresses and strains in single and two parent families. Now conversation more often turns to questions of health and well being and security and insecurity. These questions are both social and spiritual because at the root of our being is a need to know that we are held and protected at home in the world. Often those questions lead to concerns about housing. More people, and not just elders, want to “live in place.” Elders want support in safely staying in their homes for as long as possible and younger folks who are still working want to live in this place that they have come to call home. This is not so easy when affordable housing is hard to find and when their income may have dropped due to being less than gainfully employed.
As I get out more to meet people I have been in awe about how different age groups are coming together around the need for home making. More families are “bunking up” together with apartments or extra rooms being added on for the eldest. Sometimes younger people are not able to go out on their own or are now returning home with kids in tow. Nieces are making spaces for Aunties and vice versa. Some elders are looking for community style living rather than holding on to their homes. And then there are the folks who are single by choice or by circumstance that are now choosing to share home spaces with others in similar situations.
I know that for many people this is not ideal and is not their first chose for living in place. And yet, maybe this kind of creative adaption is a blessing in disguise. Maybe, just maybe, the breaking down of our ability to independently care for ourselves is opening us, person by person, family by family, to a new way of being at home.
As a pastor I think about how it is that people strive to connect with each other and with that which is ultimate in our lives. I wonder if we were really intended to live our lives so much on our own or if human beings are supposed to live more inter-dependently? God, which is the Great Reality that underpins everything, is a total experience of interdependence. And the word “religion,” stems from the word “re-ligare,” which is translated as “re-connect.” So from where I sit, the trend toward positive connections, including co-habitation, may be a good thing.
Local communities like Shelburne Falls and the surrounding towns, and the communities we form within them, are complicated systems that change with the changing times. Living in place may look different from how we thought it would look, but different can be a good thing. I am no expert on housing, but I do know that for many people being alone is not the best option and being at home is what we want. And if we can find new creative ways to share home, what could be better?