Vancouver church plans intentional community for young adults

The hope of Hineni House is that participants will be able to discern their vocation, whether they conceptualize it in spiritual terms or not, says program director Anita Laura Fonseca. Photo: Contributed
The hope of Hineni House is that participants will be able to discern their vocation, whether they conceptualize it in spiritual terms or not, says program director Anita Laura Fonseca. Photo: Contributed
Published April 19, 2016

A Vancouver rectory is set to become one of the newest of a number of intentional communities recently planned or launched by Anglicans in Canada.

This September, St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage, an Anglican church in East Vancouver, will launch its first 11-month program at Hineni House, a small-scale spiritual community intended for young adults.

A goal of the program is to encourage an “open spirituality,” and applicants don’t need to be Anglican or even believe in God at all to be accepted, says program director Anita Laura Fonseca. The hope, above all, is that the program will enable Hineni House members to discern their vocation, whether that is conceptualized in religious terms or not.

“Even though we are a faith community and spiritual practices will be a part of it…if people come from no faith and consider themselves to be atheists, for example, we would use the resources that we have to help them in their discernment journey, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a spiritual journey,” she says.

The idea for Hineni arose about five years ago, Fonseca says, when St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage was pondering what to do with its rectory. Eventually the parish settled on a discernment program for people in the 18-30 age range, partly inspired by the Episcopal Service Corps, a network of intentional communities for young adults that is affiliated with The Episcopal Church.

“That just seemed to work perfectly with what the church wants to offer,” she says.

In support of the project, St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage received a grant of $10,000 for youth leadership projects from the Anglican Foundation of Canada. “This project of intentional communal living, service to the community and spiritual discernment fit with [the Foundation’s] mandate,” says executive administrator Scott Brubacher.

Up to five participants will stay at Hineni House each year. Alongside their regular work or studies, residents will follow a program of discernment and conflict resolution, including retreats and workshops, with Hineni House’s spiritual directors, psychological counsellors and mentors. The cost of $700 includes rent, Internet and all programming, counselling and retreats.

Hineni House will join a number of new Anglican-originated intentional communities for young people in Canada. In 2014, the parish of Christ Church in Edmonton and the diocese of Edmonton jointly launched Ascension House, a six-person community for people 18-25. The Companions on the Way program, an initiative of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto aimed at women 22-40, is slated to start this September.

A particularly high-profile international program is the Community of St. Anselm at Lambeth Palace, official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which launched with 16 young adults last September.

The Rev. Scott Sharman, Ascension House director, says there may be something of a movement afoot as many people today-perhaps younger people especially-are becoming aware that “we need to try to live together in a different way, because it’s not sustainable to all just be islands unto ourselves…We’re seeing some of the limitations of being able to do that-economically, and environmentally, and relationally, and perhaps even spiritually.”

Sharman says it’s too early, however, to say how successful this movement will be. And indeed, both Fonseca and Canon Sr. Constance Joanna Gefvert, co-ordinator of SSJD’s program, say response to their programs has not been what they would have hoped.

Fonseca says it’s possible some would-be applicants may be feeling a bit deterred by the newness of the program. What many people may not realize, she says, is that this very newness presents the program’s first set of residents with a unique opportunity to make their mark.

“We’re going to figure it out with whoever comes first,” she says. “They’re the ones that are going to help us shape not just the community they’ll be in, but the entire program.”

One challenge facing organizers of Ascension House, Sharman says, has been how to balance participants’ desire to shape the community with the need for some sort of rule of life.

“We have found that a bit of challenge-how to give a little bit of freedom and a little bit of internal direction in setting the course, but not just letting it devolve into everyone doing their own thing, which sort of misses the point,” he says.

His advice for anyone setting up a new intentional community?

“Try to talk to as many people as you can who are farther along the road in this type of thing,” he says. “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about the grant received by St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage from the Anglican Foundation of Canada.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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