Category: College Heights neighborhood

As a member of this community of people, yet as a person living outside of the neighborhood, I have struggled some with how I fit into the dreams of the community at large. I suspect these feelings are natural, and have been affirmed in my place as a member and in my feelings over the last few months. for me, the hardest part is the disconnect between what I feel called to be doing (loving neighbors in the College Heights community at large) and where my life is now (living in a small but comfortable apartment right next to campus, spending most of my time in/around school, preparing to graduate in May).

With all that said, John, Rosten, and I have started on a new project that has already reenergized me and given me a focus on something I think could greatly benefit both the St. Ann Community and the College Heights neighborhood.

It’s called aquaponics.

The basic premise of aquaponics is combining aquaculture and hydroponics. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of those before, I’ll walk you through it.

What an aquaponics system could look like.

At its simplest, the fish (typically Tilapia) swim around in the water, producing waste. This waste gets pumped up into the grow beds, which are filled with rocks or other material for the plants to sit in. The plants’ roots filter the water, using the nutrients from the fish waste to grow much faster than plants left in regular soil. The now-filtered water is sent back into the fish tank, clean and ready for the fish to use again. All in all, this process grows plants and fish quickly and without harsh chemicals and pollutants. The result is yummy vegetables and fresh fish.

Our plan as of now is to research aquaponics and build a trial system, with the hopes of maybe expanding, and later being able to teach those around us how to grow healthy food right in their backyard. It should also prove an interesting conversation point to get us talking with the neighbors. And in my mind, it’s hard to beat a good old community fish fry to get to know folks.

[Edit: Drew didn’t give this post a title, so I (Rosten) decided to add one.  It’s from a line in a song by State Radio, “Dr. Ron the Actor.” John introduced us all to this awesome band, and they’re one of my personal favorites.  Check them out!]


a prayer

God, as we begin this new — long-awaited! — phase of our life together in you, I ask that you bless us with an ever-increasing measure of your Spirit. Teach us your ways. Form us in your image. Mold us as individuals and as a community of your people. Let us be people of faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all founded upon humility and guided by wisdom. Let us be cruciformed, kenotic people who live in the necessary tension of sacrifice and overwhelming joy and life. Let us be people of justice and of mercy, people of your kingdom. Let that kingdom be present in us and on earth as it is in heaven. You, God, are greatly to be praised! Amen.

[For tonight, our first night of residence in the College Heights neighborhood.]

We are in conversation with a lot of people at any given time, and we were recently asked some questions by a church that we are friends with.  First, they wanted to know what we mean when we say that we are an “intentional community.”  Second, they wanted to know some statistics and general information about Abilene…essentially asking, “Why Abilene?”  These are questions we have heard more than once, so here is how we responded to our friend/church:

Hey (name removed), sorry that I haven’t talked with you in a couple of weeks, the semester got busy!  Half of our community either has mono or some kind of stomach bug right now.  Community is a huge blessing, but it certainly has it’s unique difficulties; if one of us is sick, everyone is sick.

This brings me to your request for a definition of the term “intentional community.”  In non-religious terms, Wikipedia gives a fairly good definition, in that we are “a planned residential community designed to have a much higher degree of teamwork than other communities” (the article also emphasizes that members of these communities usually share beliefs, common practices, and resources, which are all important factors).  If I were to alter that definition, I would say that we are most certainly not a secular community; while we hopefully have a higher degree of teamwork than we would if we were separate, that is not our primary focus.  As a community, our primary focus is God.  We desire to seek God, to follow God, to learn what God is doing in our world and specifically in Abilene, TX.  If there is any teamwork present, it is through the grace and providence of God, and through the power of the Holy Spirit drawing and binding us together.  Our focus is to become more formed into the image of Christ, and to search for and nurture the image of Christ in others.  If that formation helps us grow synergistically as a team (and we think that it will and already has), then we are blessed.

In practical terms, we are a community in that all seven of us live together, pray together, eat together, work together, and go to meetings together.  While we do have our own personal possessions, I feel confident saying that none of us would hold back giving anything for the need of anyone else in the community (and honestly, that tends to be the way that we deal with people who are not direct members of the community as well).  We are intentional in that we are constantly working to draw ourselves together and towards Christ, and that we know to whom God is calling us.  It might help to compare us to a standard group of roommates.  While standard roommates often do some of these things together, it is also possible to live with someone and yet never actually be a part of their life.  Most roommates choose where they will live based on how close to campus they will be, or how cheap the rent is.  We are intent on being students of each other and advocates for each other, and we believe that this is forming us into a greater ministry team than we could otherwise be.  We are intent on following God wherever that call might take us.  Or, to speak of how we relate to each other, we are becoming a family, or at least we are learning together what it means for us to be a family.  Moreover, we hope to learn what it means to be family with our neighbors in the College Heights neighborhood.

I have never been very good at giving concise, specific answers, so if that was not helpful, please let me know and I will either try again, or ask someone else in the community to take a swing at it.

You also asked for some statistics, so I will tell you what I have found.  Abilene has approximately 120,000 residents.  In 2006 there were 37 churches of Christ in Abilene and in the towns around the city, and approximately 11,170 adherents total in those congregations.  While those numbers do not speak of the churches in town that are representative of other denominations, I can tell you that the Church in general is underrepresented in the College Heights neighborhoods of Abilene.  What little presence the Church has in those neighborhoods is segregated, both racially and socio-economically.  I do not know the statistics to tell you the deep need of Abilene, or the ways that parts of Abilene have been scarred towards the Church.  So here is a story.

Our friend Steve’s son was driving slowly through the College Heights neighborhood one day, dreaming about possibilities, but also mourning the destruction of urban sprawl.  While he was driving, a woman waved at him, motioning him to talk to her.  She asked him, “are you a cop?”  He said no.  “Are you looking for drugs?”  Again, no.  She wiggled her eyebrows and suggestively asked, “are you looking for company?”  Again…no.  Finally, realization and cynicism dawned on her, and she stated:

“Oh.  You’re here to help us.”

College Heights needs people who are dedicated to seeing them not as a ministry, or as people who need outreach or a handout, but as people who were made in the image of God.  We need the people of College Heights because, as Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  That is why we are intentionally in community with each other, so that as we move into the neighborhood and eventually into the hospital, we aren’t just a ministry.  We are a family…a small part of the family of God, hoping to draw more people into the story of who God is and what God is doing in Abilene, TX.

The final ethnography exercise I’ll mention here, again for my Contexts of Ministry class, was an assignment to try to narrate a moment in time. I took a small snippet of my ministry experience and tried to tell it exactly like it happened, at least from my perspective. Here’s what I came up with:

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 15th, I drove up to the back parking lot of St. Ann’s. I and a few others were there to meet with Bill Minter of the Abilene Preservation League. Bill wanted to see the property and hear our story to get an idea of what we were dreaming about and whether or not there might be some role that he and the APL could play in helping us find resources to restore St. Ann’s.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a couple of people in the yard of the house across the street. Since there hadn’t been many opportunities up until that point to meet any of the people of the community, and since it was something we all felt pretty strongly about doing at the first possible time, I decided that I could be a few minutes late to our meeting if it meant getting the chance to establish a relationship with some of our neighbors.

When I got out of the car, Drew Bowen started walking my way to say hi and get a hug. After our embrace, I asked him, “Do you want to come with me to meet some neighbors?” He agreed, and we began to cross the street. Rosten pulled up in his Jeep, and since he slowed down to talk to us, we told him what we were up to then continued across the way.

There was a couple who had parked next to the curb in front of the house. I wasn’t sure if they were residents of the house or just visitors. I couldn’t remember having seen them on any of our previous trips to St. Ann’s, but that didn’t mean much. The woman was sitting in the front seat of the car, talking on the phone. The man was standing outside the passenger seat side, between the car and the fence around the house. There was also a man sitting on the front porch of the house. Him I did recognize, largely because of the motorized wheelchair or scooter that I’d seen him riding around in. He wasn’t in it at the moment, but it was right there next to him.

Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure how to start a conversation. What do you say? “Hi, I’m Laura, and I’m part of a group that you’ve seen milling about for the past few weeks. We’re thinking about buying this old abandoned hospital.” It just doesn’t quite seem to fit the moment. You don’t want to be overly formal, but you also don’t want to be overly familiar, because that can be seen as patronizing, I’m sure.

So I took the easy way out, though that’s perhaps not a bad thing. As Drew and I crossed the street, I noticed also a cute little puppy sitting in the grass in front of the fence, looking our way. Knowing that pets are a good buffer and yet at the same time a good introduction, I made my way over to it and remarked to the man beside the car about how cute the puppy was. He told me that the dog’s name was Patches and that I was welcome to pet him, so I did.

The conversation barrier having been broached in that way, Drew asked the man his name—Dwayne. A few seconds of small talk ensued. We didn’t find out much about Dwayne or the woman in the driver’s seat of the car (who was still on the phone), but they seemed friendly enough.

We made our way up to the fence and began to chat with the man on the front porch, who told us we were welcome to come on inside the yard. Fumbling with the gate, I entered the yard and sidled up to the porch to talk some more. The man sat there on the porch with his legs propped up on a stool in front of him. He held an extra-large bottle of what looked like beer in his left hand, and he kindly extended his worn, leathery right hand to us as Drew and I introduced ourselves. He told us his name was Lloyd.

Lloyd asked us what we were up to, if we were looking at St. Ann’s, and I hesitantly (but hopefully not too hesitantly) said that, yes, we had been looking at the property for a while and had been talking with the owner about buying it. Lloyd was curious what our plans were for it, so I mentioned the idea of living there and also working with the neighbors to make it some sort of community center. He seemed to like the idea, or at least he didn’t express any disfavor towards it. Lloyd mentioned that he worked some for James, the owner, to keep an eye on the property and make sure that it wasn’t vandalized much. He talked about a group of three or four people (very young in his opinion—in their late teens) who would try to vandalize it, but he’d do his best to keep them away.

Again using pets as an introductory point, Lloyd and I chatted a tiny bit about the dog next to him. This dog, Bear, kept barking at Drew and I (as did the dog chained up on the other side of the yard), but he calmed down some when I pet him.

Our conversation moved on to other things as well. Lloyd pointed out a house across and down the street a little ways. “You see that house over there? The one with the green roof? Well rent there is about $500. But this one here that I live in, well, the owner gives it to me for $108 a month. Because I’m a veteran. And I’m disabled, you see.” (Perhaps those weren’t his words verbatim, but that was the gist of the conversation.) He mentioned that it didn’t take much to keep him going. A house, food, and the television. Maybe he mentioned air conditioning as well. I’m not sure.

I wanted to ask Lloyd more about the neighborhood or about his experience as a veteran, but I felt like the latter at least was probably too much for a first meeting. And it was time for Drew and I to head back over to St. Ann’s soon anyway so that we didn’t keep Bill waiting too long for us. So we all expressed how nice it was to finally meet each other, said our goodbyes, and mentioned that we hoped to see each other again soon. (Dwayne and the woman had left at some point in the meantime.) As Drew and I crossed the street back towards St. Ann’s, I waved to some neighbors in the yard next door to Lloyd’s, but I’m not sure that they saw me. I told Drew thanks for coming along with me—it’s much more fun with another person. I remember that I was so excited about the prospect of getting to know Lloyd and the rest of the people of the neighborhood better!

College Heights up close and personal

If you’d like to get an idea of just where exactly the St. Ann Hospital is located, click here to check out a Google map view. You can even zoom in pretty close to get a good idea of what the building’s layout looks like.

And click the icon below to download a city-published document we came across that gives some helpful statistics on the North College area of Abilene, which includes the College Heights neighborhood. We’ve even highlighted a few stats that we found particularly interesting…