A barefooted youngster in dinosaur pajamas skips to the grab a bowl of cereal. A man, in his early 20s, also shoe liberated with banana in hand, joins his friends for breakfast. An older man sits on a bench outside of the clammer inside the dining room as he slowly sips the last remains of his coffee. About 400 more will pass in and out of this dining room to have breakfast before attending church at 10am–without ever having to leave their homes.
Involved with Jesus People (JPUSA) that is, a 10-story, 325 room old hotel transformed into a communal living situation for families, singles and seniors. Located in Uptown, Chicago’s most diverse neighborhood, JPUSA is modeled after the Christian community depicted in the New Testament. Since beginning in 1972, and then moving into their new and most recent address at 922 Wilsen Ave in 1989 JPUSA has been the butt of skeptism and criticism of journalists and sociologists alike.
My brief three hours eating, worshipping and conversing with community members of JPUSA by no means paints an entire picture. However, living in a communal environment myself, I can understand how outsiders can be quick to judge their counter-cultural lifestyle.
“Communal living is not for everyone,” Carolyn said. “It’s difficult and pushes you to respect other people you may have a hard time getting along with.”
The community itself resembles a small town, heavily relying on one another. JPUSA is self-supporting and generates 90% of their income from community-owned businesses like a roofing business, T-shirt printers and sheet metal shop. Those who can work, do five times a week without salary. Instead they receive compensation in food, healthcare, schooling for their kids (at their internal school, K-12) and of, course free housing.
I visited the 4th floor to get a tour of it looks like to share confined spaces with sometimes 100 others on one floor. Sarah and Mark Brousi (sp?) and their three kids, aged between one to seven, have lived at JPUSA for ten years. Originally from the Czech Republic, they moved to the U.S. to be closer with Sarah’s mother in Wisconsin. With their children, they share two rooms. The parents and the baby share a comfortable sized room with a loft bed, crib, bathroom, small eating area and enough room to curl up on the couch to watch a movie. The two kids live down the hallway in their own room.
“Our kids love it here,” says Sarah. “Their friends are here, it’s safe, and there’s always a babysitter around. We all rely on one another.”
Previous to entering into JPUSA, I researched past stories studies done on JPUSA. Despite some of its muddy past, counsel members claim some of the issues have been resolved. Still, some who have left JPUSA claim they have left damaged. However, it’s difficult to decipher if these claims are genuine or out of spite. I can understand how power in such a large community, be it relgious or not, can be abused. However, I can also understand how a group of people simply wish to live in commuity to share one anothers lives, but more so to show that there is another way of living.
Still working on getting the sound…