Community of Living Traditions

What does it mean for a multifaith community to be involved in immigration or prison reform? How do we grow an intentional residential community where members can maintain their authentic and diverse religious commitments? How can a group of religiously committed activists embark on a living experiment and not be dismissed as a “fringe group” by their respective religious compatriots? These were the questions Rabia Terri Harris, Kitty Ufford-Chase, Rick Ufford-Chase, and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb brought to the table in the fall of 2009. The four met because of their overlapping interest in faith-based activism and scholarship in the New York City area. Each shared a vision of cultivating a space for multifaith engagement, nonviolent activism, and intentional residential living.[1] Around this same time, Kitty and Rick Ufford-Chase were named co-directors of the Stony Point Center, a conference center in Stony Point, New York, committed to “radical hospitality” and overseen by the Presbyterian Church (USA).[2] The Ufford-Chases decided to use their recent appointment and the campus of Stony Point Center to help implement this developing collaborative vision, a vision that would become the Community of Living Traditions (CLT).

Today, the Community of Living Traditions (CLT) at Stony Point Center is an intentional residential community that is purposefully intergenerational and multifaith, with members who are Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. CLT is “dedicated to the practice and study of hospitality, nonviolence and justice.”[3] The CLT is also an affiliate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a one hundred years old interfaith peace organization dedicated to promoting non-violence both domestically and abroad.[4] Residency in the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center is based on covenants—nonbinding contracts that state intention. Prospective CLT residents typically complete a three-month discernment process during which the individual and the community decide whether the arrangement is the “best fit.”

Since CLT supports the business of Stony Point Retreat and Conference Center’s hospitality for an extremely diverse population, residents are asked to actively participate in the Center’s work. This includes staffing the front desk or the fair trade gift shop, working in the kitchen or gardens, completing custodial tasks, welcoming guests, or performing various administrative duties. Locating CLT within the operations and financial responsibilities of a conference center, while hoping to develop financial sustainability, has led to its fair share of challenges, reflects Stony Point Center Co-Director Kitty Ufford-Chase.[5] On the one hand, the business of hospitality, which the Center is focused on, has authentic religious significance and roots in each Abrahamic tradition. At the same time, the burdens of running a conference center has left many residents feeling as though their energies are focused on a different mission. As CLT and the Stony Point Center struggle to remain financially viable and provide compensation to staff, as well as room, board, and health benefits to CLT residents, they worry they are losing sight of their ability to sustain a dynamic multifaith justice community that is very active in the larger world. Kitty Ufford-Chase reflects that realizing the vision of CLT over the last seven years has been hard won. She acknowledges that cultivating an authentic sense of community among strangers of different temperaments and interests, aside from diverse religious commitments, is a difficult process that takes time.[6]

In addition to working at the conference center, residents also commit to shared work in engaging social justice issues in the wider world as an intentional, multifaith, nonviolence, justice-oriented community. Residents devote weekly community time to the scriptural study of their own religious tradition and are encouraged to participate in the scriptural and ritual practices of the other two traditions—including the celebration of Shabbat, Friday Jum’ah prayers, or a Christian service. While no synagogue, mosque or church exists on the Stony Point Center property, a meditation space for scriptural study and personal and communal worship is available for residents and visitors alike.

One facet of CLT that has been central to sharing the fruits of this multifaith and multigenerational experiment has been the hosting of an annual summer institute for young adults. Founded in 2010, the “Farm the Land, Grow the Spirit: A Multifaith Peace, Justice and Earthcare Program for Young Adults,” provides an opportunity for young professional Jews, Christians and Muslims to grow in their spirituality, exposure to agricultural practices and to social activism. The summer institute is one more way for CLT members to cultivate a commitment to multifaith engagement within younger generations. In doing so, they are guided by the groundwork laid by their own experiment in faith, nonviolence, and community.

[1] Each founder brings a professional legacy of justice and peacebuilding. Rick Ufford-Chase was formally the youngest Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and full-time director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb was the first woman ordained in the Jewish Renewal Movement. Kitty Ufford-Chase was the former program director American Friends Service Committee, and active in the sanctuary movement for Central American refugees. Chaplain Rabia Terri Harris is the founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship.↩︎

[2] Stony Point Center. Accessed June 2016.↩︎

[3] “Community of Living Traditions.” Stony Point Center. Accessed May 2016.↩︎

[4] “History of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.” Fellowship of Reconciliation. Accessed June 2016. ↩︎

[5] Interview with the author, November 2015. ↩︎

[6] Ibid. ↩︎