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 RabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... 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 PresbyterianPresbyterian is the general name for churches governed by elected presbyters or elders and refers especially to Reformed churches in Scotland and England that shaped Presbyterian churches worldwide. The church is distinguished both from those in which aut... ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, 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 ShabbatShabbat or sabbath is the day of rest, the seventh day, recalling the Biblical creation narrative in which God rested from the labors of creation on the seventh day. In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and runs through sundown..., Friday Jum’ah prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not., or a Christian service. While no synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ..., mosqueMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... or church exists on the Stony Point Center property, a meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo... 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. RabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. Lynn Gottlieb was the first woman ordainedOrdination means consecration to a priestly or monastic life. The term is used in the Buddhist tradition for the rites of becoming a monk (bhikkhu) or nun (bhikkhuni); in the Jewish tradition for the rites of becoming a rabbi; and in the Christian traditi... in the Jewish RenewalJewish Renewal refers to a wide variety of contemporary Jewish movements that emphasize Jewish mystical spirituality, Jewish visionary reform, Jewish social conscience, and Jewish participation in tikkun olam, the “repair of the world.” Movement. Kitty Ufford-Chase was the former program director American Friends Service Committee, and active in the sanctuary movement for Central American refugees. ChaplainA chaplain is a member of the clergy who serves in a prison, a hospital, a college, or some other institution outside the context of the normal congregational life of a religious community. 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. ↩︎