By Clare Morgan
After gathering the documents I need from my office, I walk across the street to the former rectory of St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in East Vancouver, British Columbia.
It’s already dark at 7pm, and a most welcoming yellow glow greets me as I knock on the door.
As it opens and I enter, a wonderful chorus of “Heeey!” spills forth from the big dining room table, which is spread with a beautiful vegetarian dinner.
It’s Monday night, and time for another communal meal and programming evening at Hineni House, the intentional community sponsored by St. Margaret’s.
Hineni House, which takes its name from the Hebrew pronouncementהִנְנִי meaning “I am here,” was a passion project which took many years to become incarnate. St. Margaret’s, a small community of Anglicans who celebrate in the round in a lovely little yellow church, has always been committed to justice for the marginalized. After many discussions about how to best make use of the rectory property, ideas began to emerge. Finally, it was decided that this new ministry should provide affordable housing to young people seeking to deepen their spirituality and interested in exploring living communally with others while attending school and/or working.
Under the guidance of rector Rev’d Heidi Brear, several committed parishioners, and their first community director Anita Fonseca-Quezada, Hineni House first opened its doors to residents in September 2016. The pattern of the community’s life began to emerge: regular communal meals, programming which explored different prayer practices and spiritual topics, weekend retreats, and group outings to different spiritual activities.
Interesting divergences from the original vision immediately emerged. For one thing, most of the applicants were over 30, older than what the newly formed Hineni House Council had expected. For another, rather than being seekers of spiritual community, several had ties to religious communities already. Despite these differences, those who lived there represented a diversity of religious experience, and embraced a communal life where they shared a spiritual inclination and curiosity with each other.
In summer 2017, Anita left the position to pursue a PhD, and I accepted the position. I had been ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church the previous year and was hungry to break into a new ministry after three years in a long-established, comfortable Anglican parish in the wealthy Dunbar Heights neighbourhood. Two of the previous year’s residents stayed on (residents can stay for a maximum of two years), and we welcomed three new residents, with one of them moving into the now vacant basement suite. This year’s residents included a PhD student, a hospitality worker, a care aide, a chaplaincy intern with the Mission to Seafarers, an actor and courier, and a journalism student. All of them have had different encounters with the church ranging from deep involvement from an early age to no history of religious participation at all.
So far, our year has been rich in experience. We have worked together on communal and individual Rules of Life; explored different types of prayer including Lectio and Video Divina and prayer beads; attended two retreats, one on the strange and mystical Gospel of Thomas; hosted three guest speakers; and enjoyed a lot of laughter and good food.
This little community-within-a-community has enlivened my soul in a way that I could only have dreamed of at this time last year. The discussions we have, the wealth of experiences, the mutual support between housemates, and the flourishing spirituality I have encountered is truly Spirit-filled.
In a strikingly secular and wildly unaffordable city, this little beacon in East Vancouver shines as a testament to the fact that Millennials and the generations who come after are by no means godless or uninterested in religion, but are merely seeking something new: a new church, a new faith, a new God, or simply a new way of looking at what it means to be spiritual, whether that’s religious or not.
If you are curious about Hineni House, please check out our website!
Clare is a queer non-binary Anglican priest, chaplain, and musician living on unceded Musqueam territory in the Pacific Northwest.