Intentional Communities: The Renaissance Community, Massachusetts

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The steel truss on this house behind a Renaissance garden is designed to support a free-form living room.
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Renaissance's new, spring fed swimming pond.
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A French intensive garden adjacent to preschool play areas.
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An outdoor lunch break from an indoor remodeling job.

We all live in communities of one kind or another. Even large cities can offer cohesive neighborhoods with common goals, interests, or ethnic backgrounds. Generally speaking, though, as towns grow larger and as families disperse, a sense of community becomes harder to find. Still, while an urban area may be impersonal, it is necessarily a highly interdependent environment.

Likewise, even people who move to the country “to become self-sufficient” discover that success in attaining their goal is most often tied to the help and support they receive from people who live nearby–and the more remote the location, the more vital such cooperation is.

Realizing the importance of such interdependence, some individuals go a step or two further and try to guarantee both physical and moral support by deliberately creating “neighborhoods” of like-minded persons. It’s not a new concept. The Pilgrims were such people. Many of our early American communities were remarkably successful, others flourished briefly, some–for various reasons–died quick deaths. Those patterns are still being repeated today.

In the last two decades in particular, there has been a revival of the intentional community concept. Currently, there are literally thousands of such places–large or small, struggling or prospering–all over the world. Their reasons for being, their forms of government, and their philosophies are as varied as we ourselves are.

The Community Referral Service has compiled information on more than 125 intentional communities in the United States. This organization also contacted a variety of intentional communities for MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

By publishing these firsthand reports written by community members, we are not endorsing these specific places (after all, we haven’t actually visited most of them) but are trying to offer a small sampling of the diversity of such groups today. We recommend the CRS listing for anyone interested in a broader look at the movement. We also urge you to check out any intentional community very carefully before becoming involved. Nearly all require extended visits, some financial commitment, and the approval of most, if not all, of their members before accepting new residents. On the other hand, we’ve found that many offer challenging and viable alternative lifestyles, so a careful search may turn up just the supportive new home you’ve been looking for.

The Renaissance Community located in the hills of the Connecticut River Valley is a spiritual community that began in a tree house in 1968. Some of us, however, would tell you that its actual beginning may have taken place centuries ago, in other lifetimes when the people here knew one another. It’s certain that, in our present forms, we’re putting much of our energy into getting back to the land.

In 1976 we bought 80 acres in Gill, Massachusetts, and named the place The 2001 Center. Two years later we started to put our labor, talents, and financial resources together to cultivate a self-sufficiency community. Today the land is dotted with new solar homes, greenhouses, orchards, gardens, animals, a windmill, and the 75 adults and 50 children who live here.

The systems we work with are a varied blend of high and low technology. Essentially, we use any means to provide food and energy … so long as it works, it makes sense ecologically and financially, and someone is willing to follow through with it. For example, some people here prefer the old-time use of rainwater and candlelight, while others employ solar equipment.

When our community first began, it was set up in a backwoods, rustic way. Over the years, however, we’ve moved back into the mainstream of society in order to have outlets for our creative arts and to set up a stable financial system for ourselves … i.e., businesses. At the present time these include a silk-screening company, a carpentry and excavating enterprise, a housecleaning business, and a bus company that serves the rock-and-roll industry. All are communally owned, but each one is managed by one person, who is responsible for focusing the group process on that enterprise. Each business controls its own cash accounts and salaries. At another level, though, the business managers and other department heads get together to guide the flow of profits into the various projects agreed upon by the community at large. Together–as a family–we manage to cover our financial needs, not just through hard work but also through following the basic principle of sharing. We don’t have to have an overseer tell us that we must share: We already know that when people share there’s plenty for all and that true sharing makes life feel good. We leave it up to ourselves as individuals to take the initiative on how well we treat one another–and that applies to personal interactions as well as to distribution of material goods. Obviously, when everyone does his or her part, it feels great. (And, of course, the opposite is also true.)

We are very keen on nature and regard it as one of the main resources available for “de-stressing” ourselves. We also use meditation as an avenue toward group harmony. Several evenings a week we get together for about an hour to “attune” in meditation, to socialize a bit, to talk about business when there’s something needing discussion, and to plan our Saturday projects on the land. We do a great deal of work together to make the going swift and fun. We also have parties, cookouts, campfires, children’s swims in the pond, and anything else we can conjure up to enjoy ourselves together and on an individual basis.

The children here live with their parents and go to our own preschool. When they’re old enough, they attend the local public school. Eventually we hope to have our own wholesome alternative school, making it available to outside children as well. But so far we’ve had to put our group energy into getting homes built and producing a reliable food program.

As is the case in our physical and social programs, the process of growth at an individual level is a continuous one. We stress individuality and nourish it by learning to accept one another without judgment and by cooperating without competing. At a material level, our lifestyle isn’t overly arduous or austere, since many hands make the work load light. Yet our greatest success in the 15 years we’ve been together has been in creating a positive environment that allows the inner being to grow.

More and more, too, we’re exploring constructive ways in which we can connect with other communities through what is called the “Network of Light,” and we’ve discovered that this network is extensive. Individuals and groups all over the planet are linking together and finding ways to work for everyone’s benefit.

We’re always open to visitors. We do, however, ask that people contact us in advance if they’re planning to stay overnight.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368