Chocolate chip pancakes and the role of shared stewardship in community life

By the time I made it down to the kitchen, the place was packed. Housies, housie family members and overnight guests were all in motion — cooking, cleaning, eating, talking around a table strewn with two newspapers and all the makings of a holiday weekend breakfast. It felt a lot like the ones we’ve enjoyed over the years with family.

But there was a difference. Although I spotted Carol cranking up the blender at the far end of the room, I was related to none of the dozen or so others in the room. This was not a family gathering, but it reflected a dimension of relationship we’re finding increasingly essential to our lives.

That's Danny on the left

That’s Danny on the left

Presiding at the big six-burner gas stove was Danny, at 21 the youngest of BHFH’s 21 residents and one of its more accomplished cooks. The way I began the day with his chocolate chip pancakes — cooked up for everyone in the room — re-enforced an idea I’ve been noodling a lot in recent days.

There is something about the shared experience and stewardship of community life that enriches — and eases — day-to-day life in ways I hadn’t imagined. It’s not that this sort of community is without its challenges, so don’t mistake my enthusiasm for a blanket endorsement of life at BHFH.

All I’m suggesting is that deep, everyday reliance on others pays big dividends when stretched past family boundaries. It’s a riff that got spinning in my head during a recent visit with friends of 35 years, Gary and Cathy.

Inviting them to Boston for the weekend reminded us of one of the challenges of our new life-in-a-room — limited space for guests. But we lucked out and got them into the George Fox guest room just behind the laundry and TV room.

gary cathy 2

With Cathy and Gary in the BHFH dining room

Their visit recalled the unusual friendship we shared with them and four other families in a neighborhood just outside Washington, D.C.  Our kids were little, and we joined Gary and Cathy and Carol and Charlie and Rich and Rita and Frank and Judy and Joan and Ed in a parenting network that improved life for all concerned, including the 13 children of those dozen parents.

This group had no formal structure, our interactions (and mutual support) unfolding instead during impromptu potlucks and annual communal vacations on the shores of the Outer Banks.

Nearly four decades later at BHFH, we’re encountering shared experience of a different sort. No kids live in the house. The stewardship ranges from kitchen maintenance to figuring ways of creating a safe environment for quite different people sharing tight quarters. One night a week at BHFH, each resident is expected to serve on dish crew. This involves a half hour of set-up before our 6:30 community dinners, followed by a half hour (or more) of clean-up.

With travel and other obligations, it can be a challenge to find the right night or to arrange a sub. But it’s doable. More than that, it’s enjoyable. Somehow the front and back end mechanics of dish duty assume a lighter and altogether different feel when accompanied by a couple of friends.

Other BHFH chores offer a similar upsides and downside. Making sure the Quaker Meeting Room is swept and dusted before Sunday Worship (my latest chore) is a challenge when I’m out of town over a weekend, but the generosity and flexibility of fellow housies makes it all work.

The bigger challenge involves the human stuff. But I’m finding that living with people different from me in so many respects — age, sexual orientation, etc. —  is changing my life outside the house as well as within it. It may even be shaving down some of my impulsive judgments of personalities and paths beyond my experience.

About those pancakes: Danny says he got the recipe from one of our fellow housies, Shannon. You might want to give it a try. Don’t forget to add the chocolate chips.

What’s your experience of shared stewardship these days?

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