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Thanks for a great day!

We want to thank all of you for your part in the day of prayer and celebration! Whether you came out and prayed for an hour or two (or 8, as a couple of our friends did), brought out food, came out for the 11 PM celebration and story-time, prayed from afar, or even if you have no idea who we are and were confused as to why you were even invited, we praise God for you and celebrate the unique ways that God has led you to this point in your life.

Pay attention to the ways that God is moving around you, and join in. Meet someone who is different from you. Talk to someone who is a stranger (or someone who is strange to you), and listen to their stories. Search for the image of Christ in everyone around you.

Again, we as a community are blessed by all of you. Thank you for being a part of our life. We pray that we can all share in the family of God together, in this life or in the life to come.

peace,
The St. Ann Community

Janet Mendenhall, chef of all that is wonderful.

Interestingly, this is completely candid for Lily.

Our buddy Michael (Fish) is happy to be cold!

St. Ann Celebration!

It has been a year now since we were called to follow God as a community to the College Heights area of Abilene. We want to invite you to join us for a day of prayer and celebration, thanking God for the guidance of the past year, and asking that God lead us and all of Abilene closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

From 12 AM Saturday morning (midnight) until 12 AM Sunday morning (midnight), we want you to join us in the courtyard at what was once St. Ann hospital for 24 hours of prayer and peace. The times on the schedule below are intended to be larger group fellowship times, so feel welcome to join for meals and especially for the celebration time at 11 PM. And while some of you may not be able to join us physically, your prayers would still be appreciated as we celebrate what God has done and continues to do. We want the entire day to be filled with prayer…if you would like to join us for an hour, two hours, or even longer at any point during the day or night, please call Rosten at 361.652.7792 or John at 713.305.5876, let us know in the comments below, or just show up at 1350 Cypress. That address is where you will find the parking lot, and we will be tucked into the small courtyard behind the parking lot. We look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday:
12:00 AM – Opening prayer
7:30 AM – Breakfast (provided by Lynn and Steve Holt)
6:30 PM – Dinner (provided by Janet and Doug Mendenhall)
11:00 PM – Time of Celebration, Song, Story, and Communion

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.

unfolding stories

God has been unfolding many stories in the lives of his people and in the world he created. Some have been easy to spot, while others remain hidden. Some spring up quickly, while others are a long time in coming. And yet all testify to the goodness and faithfulness of God. We have been blessed to not only catch a glimpse of what God is doing in the College Heights community, but to be invited to join in the kingdom there as God’s great plans unfold.

We invite you to journey with us as we learn from new friends and neighbors about life, as we strive to follow Jesus’ example more closely, and as we learn how God is moving in the College Heights community.

introducing the St. Ann Community!

The St. Ann Community is a group of Christian disciples brought together by God for the purposes of living together in intentional community and working for reconciliation and development within the College Heights neighborhood of Abilene, Texas.

Our community is currently composed of seven individuals: four single men, one single woman, and one married couple. Drew Bowen is an undergraduate Christian ministry major at Abilene Christian University and also serves as summer director for Camp of the Hills. Five of us—Laura Beall, Rosten Callarman, John Kaczmarek, Joshua Kirby, and Keith Owens—are graduate students of theology, missions, and ministry at ACU, with diverse interests and ministerial involvements (including Camp of the Hills and various ministries in the Abilene community). We are also graced with the presence of an enthusiastic and talented high school science teacher (Deb Kirby) who works almost entirely with at-risk students. The strengths of this community as God has composed it are incredible, and we hope that as the community continues to thrive, God will choose to increase our number.

This community was formed in February 2010, when, through a series of events, God led us to the College Heights neighborhood, specifically to the abandoned St. Ann hospital building, from which we have derived our name. Though our entire story takes a few hours to tell well, let it suffice for now to say that God has confirmed to us over and over again in some astounding ways that there are plans for us in College Heights and in the kingdom.

The dream that God has given us is one with many facets, though those fall generally under a three-fold framework: community, neighborhood, and city. For the St. Ann Community itself, it is a dream of holy and purposeful covenant living that challenges us to grow in deeper relationship with God and one another. For the College Heights neighborhood, it is a dream of community development, not just in economic resources, but also in the residents’ quality of life and interpersonal bonds. For the larger city of Abilene, it is a dream of a network of connections between the city’s organizations, officials, and concerned citizens, all for the sake of the well-being of the city and its inhabitants. In all of these areas, we hope to see both reconciliation of relationships and the restoration of people and things to their intended beauty and function. It is a big dream, but that is why it is essential that we remember it is God’s dream, not merely our own.

This dream will work itself out in a number of ways and has already begun to do so. Since August 2010, the St. Ann Community has been living in intentional community together, strengthening our bonds and discovering how God has put us together as a group. In the summer of 2011, we will be moving to the College Heights neighborhood, and our relationships with our neighbors there will then begin to grow. A centerpiece of our ministry in the neighborhood will be our conviction that all people, regardless of life situation, are uniquely made in the image of God and therefore have something significant to offer. With this in mind, we plan to build mutually-enhancing relationships, learning from our neighbors and submitting to them appropriately—empowering them to live into God’s kingdom vision at our side rather than behind us. Since God has made it clear to us that the old St. Ann hospital building is of great significance to God’s dream for the development of the neighborhood, we have made inquiries into purchasing the building and restoring it so that it can be beneficial for the neighborhood and the city. Unless God shows us otherwise, this will be a major part of our endeavors. This venture has also allowed us to begin work in the third facet of our dream: networking relationships within the city. As all of these plans and efforts move forward, we fully expect to see God continue working (sometimes even through us!) in amazing ways to make the dream we have received a reality for the growth of the kingdom in Abilene.

Ben’s narration of an evening

Here’s an opportunity to hear a little bit from our friend Ben Covington about his take on an experience we had in the first week of April, when we spent an evening with some of our peers discerning what God might be up to among us with the St. Ann building. Ben’s got quite a way with words!

For a class that Josh and Ben and I are taking at ACU, Stephen Johnson’s Contexts of Ministry class, we were asked to spend some time narrating stories of the ministerial contexts we have chosen. For the three of us, our context is the College Heights neighborhood and whatever it is that God’s up to around the St. Ann hospital. When it came time to work on this narration, I couldn’t pick out one specific moment; for me the story of the most interest was the metanarrative of what God had been doing. Here are my initial thoughts on the matter. Unpolished as they may be, I hope they’re a blessing to you.

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!

As another ethnographic assignment, Josh and I went to interview Virginia Connally, the first female doctor in Abilene, who worked at St. Ann for most of her career. Josh had been connected up with Virginia as if by a miracle in the first few days after our discovery of the hospital building. You’ll hear more about that in our complete narrative, hopefully sometime soon!

Our goal in this interview was to get a sense of Virginia’s life story, especially as it related to her experience as a woman doctor and her time at St. Ann. Unfortunately, the audio recording we made of the interview was lost, so Josh and I sat down together as soon as we could to try to reconstruct the interview. The questions and answers recorded below give a general sense of how it went.

Interview

When and where were you born?

  • December 4, 1912 in Temple, Texas

Tell us about your family.

  • 2 younger sisters
  • an older brother who died from pneumonia when he was 3 (Virginia was 1)

How did you end up in Abilene?

  • went to Temple Junior College in 1929
  • moved to Abilene when she was 18 (in 1930) to attend Hardin Simmons University
  • graduated from HSU in 1933
  • married during her time at HSU

Why did you decide to become a doctor, and how did you go about doing that?

  • her uncle (a lawyer) continually stressed the importance of higher education for all the kids in her family, encouraging them (and it seems, expecting them) to pursue degrees that would allow for careers in law, medicine, etc.; this inspired her
  • went to med school at LSU from 1933-1937
  • finished residency at Charity Hospital in New Orleans in 1940

How did you end up back in Abilene, working at St. Ann?

  • moved back to Abilene with her husband
  • when WWII rolled around, many of the male doctors were called to serve, and this opened up positions for doctors locally

Tell us about life at St. Ann.

  • nearly all of the doctors were welcoming to her
  • she only recounted one incident in which a doctor was rude towards her, and it might have been because of his prior relationship with the patient in question
  • the attitudes of the male doctors did not change noticeably when the men came back from the war; they were all still courteous
  • the sisters at St. Ann were very kind and made life enjoyable (as well as making amazing pecan brittle)

Is there any memory in particular that stands out to you from your time at St. Ann?

  • on Christmas day during WWII (1943 or 1944), she spent the entire day with a small boy who was a patient of hers, along with his mother; the child was very sick and was dying because there were no antibiotics back then to give to him

What was the neighborhood around St. Ann like back then?

  • Hendrick [another hospital just a few blocks away] was already there
  • she didn’t really spend much of any time in the neighborhood itself and can’t recall what it was like
  • she did do a few house calls (though not very often)
    • one time, when she arrived at the house, the family of the patient turned her away when they realized that it was a woman doctor who had come; she left, thinking that they could fend for themselves if they really were that unwilling to let her help
    • another time, she drove to the other side of town for a house call; when she arrived, the front door was open, but the house was dark and no one responded to her; she left without going in, and to this day, she still wonders what was going on

As a Baptist yourself, what was your relationship to the Catholic nuns at the hospital like? Was there any tension, or did the religious differences not come into play at all?

  • the relationship was always good
  • she was raised in a Catholic school herself, so she was familiar with the differences in practice and belief
  • overall, it’s just very important to listen to each other (which led us into long tangents about listening to people, about prayer, about religious/political differences and similarities overall…)

So, you’ve heard some of our story about how we came across St. Ann and what we think we’d like to do there. What do you think about this dream?

  • she affirmed us as individuals and as a group specifically
  • she affirmed our dream in a more general manner
  • she expressed general niceties to show her support
  • when we mentioned it, she agreed that she’d like to come see St. Ann again with us sometime

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…