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Rambler Houses: How We Could Structure a Faithful Young Adult Catholic Community

More often than not in life, our hopes and dreams aren't just going to fall in place like a lucky card hand. We have to work hard at achieving them, and society will probably punish us for trying. The most persistent visions endure over the years though, and if our vision stays with us, we have to do our part to make sure it endures beyond our time by bringing it to life as much as we can.

It is that conviction that led me work toward building a self-sustaining Catholic community. When I say "build" I mean it literally. The plan is to acquire real estate and build the young adult community we envision upon it. For some reason, I didn't understand my strong desire to enter the real estate business at first. Now I see that I needed to know the business in order to acquire the properties needed to build these houses.

I started Rambling Spirit with the interest of promoting Catholic young adult community life, but didn't know how to do that in a substantial way beyond a publication. Establishing these community houses for young adults will be a more tangible way to provide community for those who are discerning their vocation. This vision started with Rambling Spirit, so it is natural to call these community houses "Rambler Houses". The hope is for the idea to spread from town to town. "Rambler Houses" is also fitting because the young adults who will occupy the houses are---in a sense---wanderers looking for God's will in their lives. Many of these houses for young adults have sprung up in the past, but few last for more than a decade. My hope is to ensure that these houses stay open.

As Gandalf said to Frodo in a letter about Strider, "Not all who wander are lost" (I can picture this quote on a plaque on the threshold entering at least the first Rambler House). The community of young adults who will join the Rambler Houses will join to discern what path God wants them to take. The houses will serve the local community, participate in daily prayer, and live a structured lifestyle designed to help them find God.

Structures of Three

The structure of the community will be founded upon three concepts of three.

  1. The first is the three roles of the founding members: administrator, community outreach coordinator, and spiritual advisor. A house needs at least these three to establish itself. Subsequent members will be assigned to one of these three groups.

  2. The second concept of three is the three structures on the community property: a men's house, a woman's house, and a chapel (see featured image above).

  3. The third concept of three is the three years to discern. The members of the community will have a 3-year path upon which they embark when they enter the community. In a way, the path is designed to imitate the three years of Christ's ministry on earth. The path will have milestones along the way determined by the leaders of the three groups and the new member. The member can leave whenever he or she wants, but the idea is to imbue a sense of commitment to each other. Otherwise, what purpose does the community serve?

If the rambler (tentative name for members) hasn't come to a decision after three years, they enter a grace year where they can stay one more year to plan their next steps. There is infinite flexibility to the decision the community encourages them to make, and all members will be supportive. The community is just there to make sure the rambler does ultimately make a decision.

We are pilgrims on a spiritual journey to heaven. Young adults discerning their vocation don't have much of a community of their own to help them along that journey. The Rambler Houses are designed to help anyone discerning their vocation, but naturally it is young adults who are on that search more than other age groups. If someone over 40 has not yet chosen married life, religious life, or the consecrated single life, then of course they are also welcome.

Vocation During Community Life

The three-year path will lay out a plan that is in line with the rambler's aspirations. What is their dream job? It is the responsibility of the community to make it happen in a sustainable way that helps support the community.

At the end of the four years, the rambler will have ideally chosen the married life, religious life, or consecrated single life. He or she may continue to pursue that vocation outside of the community, or may choose to stay and participate in the mission of the community. The goal of the community is to help the rambler find God's will in his or her life. God's will is not obscure. He may only show us the next step, but he does tell us which path to take---even if he doesn't show us exactly what it will look like all at once. Scripture and saints often talk about how God has a plan for us. It is the community's job to help its members figure it out and execute it.

"God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next." - St. John Henry Newman

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

It is also essential for our life and work in the community to be integrated. This helps us live holy, holistic lives. We live in a society where we often just want to check out of our jobs at the end of the day, but our jobs take up a big part of our lives. It makes sense to do something we enjoy, something we are proud to do. We are what we do. Our ancestors embraced this, and that is why we have last names linked to professions like "Taylor", Smith", "Baker", "Butler", etcetera. When we love what we do, we can do even the little tasks in our job with great love.

The Rambler Houses will provide an environment where people can work in a more integral way, ideally on site. This way, the link between their life and work is visible and tangible. This is nothing new, of course. It is how people worked for centuries, as we can see in the close proximity between shops and houses in old villages throughout the world, but especially in Medieval Europe and small American towns built before the 20th century.

Rothenburg, Germany (photo by Steve Knight on Flickr)

Intentionally limited parking on property

Working in a sustainable way on the property will limit the need for parking since the members of the community won't need a car to commute to and from work, which is often the main reason people need a car. If we limit the need for a car in this way, it is much easier to outsource transportation when needed or desired for other occasions, like for errands and leisure activities. Each Rambler House will have only one vehicle and its main use will be for long trips or necessities.

We were made for communion. Parking lots take up too much room, hinder human interaction, and disconnect us from our natural environment. Not only do they take up space that could be used for better, more beautiful things like gardens, benches, and paths. They also encourage people to drive to the place for which they are built. There are too many cars on the road, because new structures keep providing the parking needed to drive there. There will continue to be too many cars on the road if we continue to provide ample parking for people to drive everywhere they go. If we want to build better communities, we have to start by building places that promote human interaction over parking spaces.

This paradigm does not aim to take people's cars away, but to make us less reliant on cars. It is a path to freedom, not isolation. Cars aren't going anywhere, but we ought to build more environments with human beings in mind. We are people, not cars. Implementing these ideas will lead to many obstacles due to zoning ordinances, but it will be worth it in the end.

The Rambler House community will have limited need for ample parking because the residents will live where they work. Also, they will live a lifestyle designed around participating in the local community, meaning those areas to which they can walk or ride a bike.

A property that apparently has less parking than usual will look different. That is intentional. Our way of life has to be visible. People have to see that we are living differently, even if they're just driving by, or else there is no point to living in community.

The Rambling Spirit publication's role

Rambling Spirit will help keep the vision of young adult community life alive. Without a periodical, the ideas we intend to implement through our lifestyle run the risk of fading into obscurity. They could easily just lose relevance as new generations introduce new ideas that are not aligned with the original intentions of the community. So it is essential to have a publication of our own that continuously communicates the vision of the Rambler Houses.

The publication can also provide a source of income for ramblers who choose to use it as their self-sustaining work. The ideal is for each rambler to choose their own self-sustaining work to help cover the cost of living in the community. However, Rambling Spirit is always there for those who want to contribute to the community by spreading its mission and vision through media.

God's wild path

Looking back at the crazy winding path my life has taken so far is partially what inspired me to build a place where other young adults can discover and even blaze their own path. While paving his path for me, God may have been thinking something like this:

'We need him to build a permanent, self-sustainable community for young adults. He's gonna have to spend some time as a local journalist so he has a reason to attend municipal meetings and learn how township councils, master plans, and zoning codes work. Also, we're gonna have to inspire him to get a liberal arts degree despite the fact that society considers such a degree to be pretty much useless, but he's gonna need it in order to understand how to bring together all of the people he'll need to bring together to make all this happen. And he's gonna have to spend some time in construction to learn about the blood, sweat, and dirt that goes into building what I intend for him to build. And he is going to need a publication of his own to spread his unconventional ideas, because no other publication is going to have quite the right audience or purview. And he's going to have to learn how the real estate business works so he can make the deals necessary to acquire the properties we need.'

As he shares all this the angels are like, 'You know this is crazy, right?' And God's like, 'Yes, I know. That's why David needs to be a bit crazy himself, and I need to keep these outlandish ideas on his heart, even if he can't make any sense of them because this mission is too important to entrust to practical people who will just dismiss it all as impossible. Oh, and he's gonna have to live a faithful Catholic life so I can continue to guide him through the process.' And the angels respond, 'Even when your plan seems crazy, we'll praise the crazy.'

And all the while I've been like, "Why the heck am I studying to get my real estate license? Why am I getting up at 5 a.m. to drive an hour to dig ditches in Jersey City? What the heck is this Rambling Spirit publication even about? And how does my desire for God still hang around, despite all of my sins and despite how irrelevant faith in him seems to be in my everyday life in secular society? God, what the heck do you want me to do with my life?"

Ah, now I get it.

Featured image imagined with Midjourney.


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