Bob and Yvette and their son, Holden, moved to Spokane from Arlington, Virginia last July. Yvette has family locally (and grew up in Ephrata) and have visited Spokane for over a decade. It was the offer of a job for Bob—with a newly minted PhD in sociology—at Whitworth that landed them in Spokane now. Bob is part of what’s called the “social service and community action track,” guiding students who aim to be social workers, or who anticipate working with nonprofits. Yvette found meaningful work as the chaplain at Riverview Retirement Community. Holden is in kindergarten at the Spanish immersion program at Libby School.
Sarah Conover: How did you both end up in Spokane?
Yvette: We talked about moving closer to where my family is, and Bob was pretty intentional about getting to know the sociology departments out west. And it just was lucky that Whitworth was hiring and he got the job at Whitworth.
While Bob was in graduate school, I was a pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Arlington, Virginia. I actually wasn't quite sure what I would be doing when I arrived in Spokane. We decided to move before I had secured a job.
Sarah: Are there parallels between being a pastor in community and your anticipation of living in Haystack Heights?
Yes, I think so. In congregations you need to be mindful about people knowing one another and having time, spending time with one another so that the connection is more than skin deep. My congregation had three different worship times on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and I would forget that I knew people who had been there for a long time, but others didn't necessarily know each another if they didn't go to the same worship service. So, as a pastor, I tried to arrange and create opportunities for people to get together other than Sunday mornings in order that they had an expanded sense of the congregation. Even if they didn't worship with particular people every Sunday, they knew them and cared for one another.
Sarah: What do you think the intention has to be for a community to be healthy?
Yvette: I think it depends. In the case of a congregation you have a sense of shared mission and purpose, some articulation that we are here to be a gospel presence or to tell people about God's love. We'll talk about that in different ways and have different ideas of what that is, but God's love is taking care of one another within community. And not only thinking about the people in the community but also looking at expanding your sense of who your neighbor is beyond that and reaching out and showing love to them as well.
Sarah: Haystack is a secular community, so what would be your idea of an overarching purpose? In our first workshops we did do a lot of visioning. What would an ideal community look like to each of you? I'd love to hear.
Bob: I guess what attracted us to Haystack is the two values of sharing life together and a desire to be more environmentally sustainable. Some communities perhaps have religion or faith at its core, but certainly that's not necessary to have a community of shared value. And those two values for me had been really appealing.
I think our family has struggled like many families we know to find community. At first, I wondered if, is it a DC thing or a time-of-life thing? But I think it is maybe just a modern life thing. We know other people who are not in big urban areas who still struggle to connect. If your lives aren't naturally overlapping, then it becomes really difficult, even with intention, to find time to get together. We were close to this one family in particular with two young kids and, if we were lucky, and with a lot of effort, we would see them a couple of times a month at most.
Coming here we were open. We didn't necessarily have Haystack on the radar when we first moved, but I think wherever we would have landed, we were interested in finding ways to build those pathways of relationships that don't make it so difficult to connect. In my experience, when you live in the neighborhood or physically in the same place as your community, it makes it much easier to share life together.
Sarah: Have you lived in community before?
Bob: When I was in grad school, I lived in a group house with other students. We had meals in common and we had some common practices. We didn't have an underlying mission, we just wanted to live cheaply and safely. They had these established things in place that sort of transcended the individuals living there at any particular time. I just showed up and joined in.
Sarah: What kind of things helped you feel like a community?
Bob: I think mostly the dinners we did together. You took turns cooking and providing the food, and then you got the benefit of the meals the other nights. As a grad student, that's really nice. After that year, I transitioned over to living in Washington D.C. to a year-long service program where there were nine of us that lived in a house and we all worked for the same organization.
We shared life together. That house was different in the sense that there was more intention about it. It was a faith-based organization. We did weekly spiritual practice together and then we also did common meals and then we actually had common money. We had to decide as a house how to spend our resources. We had more equality because we were all at different stages of life and from different families with different means. So, we made a rule that no one could bring in outside resources unless they petitioned the community.
Sarah: Wow, that's big.
Bob: There were lots of things we discussed as a community to try to decide. In general, trying to be wise and kind and figure out rules, ground rules for everybody. There are going to be differences of opinions. Any communities negotiating conflict can be challenging.
Sarah: So obviously it was a good enough experience that you're ready to do community again!
Bob: Yes. It was a good experience. But it's not like those memories were front-of-mind when we decided about Haystack. For me it was more like our recent experience as a family just trying to find community.
It can kind of seem weird to make this big commitment to live with these people we don't really know. But we have all had committed to this broader project. Our friend was reading a cohousing book and apparently there was a point made that most successful cohousing communities aren't made up of people who knew each other beforehand. In some ways, you're subscribing to this broader project and it's not based on the strength of old relationships. There are common values: It’s not necessarily because I like you and you and you (hopefully you develop that affection for one another) but it’s a commitment to those values.
Yvette: I spent two years after I graduated from college living in communities. There were ten of us in Denver, Colorado and we each had volunteer jobs in different organizations, but we committed to living together and we had a stipend and a common pot for our food expenses. It was also faith based, but very much about social justice. I was in Denver for that year with nine housemates. We had commitments to do shared meals together five days a week and we had house meeting once a once a week, and a couple of retreats during the year.
I think common meals—food—work as glue. It's not magic but spending time together over food and sharing your life daily connects people. It makes sense that it be part of what will be our common life.
In my community, there was value in uncomfortable conversations. We had to talk about conflicts we'd been avoiding. There is value in when you're committed to stick with people and you confront the conflict. I just think something that I learned from living in community is that there is value talking about the things that are hard to talk about.
Bob: What I look forward to is the version of sharing life where you help others and they help you. We're in this life together and when something's going on and we need help, people will be there; and there will be times when we're free to be the helpers. There's enough of us that it's not all the people all the time leaning heavily on each other! I was just thinking about when my dad died during one of those years that I lived in community and the value of having a community who walked through that with me every step of the way. Some members are going to be going through something big or even just small.
In community, just dealing with struggles of being at a young family will be easier—those moments like yesterday when Holden was sick and Yvette had to take the day off. We both have duties that involve other people. It was a day I really couldn't miss. And if we lived in a community, we might not have to take a day off work. We could just call around and probably somebody can manage Holden for a day, a half a day or whatever. So, besides just the fun of ongoing rituals and the meals and things, I think it’s wonderful that folks have your back.
Yvette: Although we could have bought our own single-family home, I just want to relate our thinking about being a part of Haystack. Once we started exploring, it just made so much sense in terms of sustainability. Something I really appreciate about the community is that everyone who is choosing to be a part of Haystack is choosing to live in a different way in terms of the amount of space they take and the environmental impact—sharing things like laundry facilities and lawnmowers and stuff, which is weirdly counter-cultural. It doesn't seem like it should be that weird!
It makes me hopeful because sometimes, in terms of climate change, there are moments when it feels like we are just screwed. The thing that gets me is that it's Holden’s generation that’s going to be suffering because of it. It really is meaningful for me to be part of a community of people to whom that matters and they're choosing to live their lives differently. It makes me hopeful. I just wanted to say that's a big part of the value for us. It really was a hook. I'm really grateful that we have the chance to be a part of the community.