What's Wrong With Community?
Community is not unpopular. It is very popular with people who are over 60. It is people under 60 who seem to have a strong aversion to it and, the younger you are, the less likely you are to be in it. There is a huge generation gap. This is the main thing that threatens its future survival as, unless you have a steady stream of young people of working age, you will be unable to pay the bills. A state pension of £150 a week is not adequate for living in community. It is like living in a hotel. How many families have 2 or 3 spare bedrooms where people can stay the night? How many families can invite the neighbours over for a free Sunday dinner? This is the lifestyle of a wealthy Victorian family. Some people imagine that, if the houses are paid for, there is no problem. Wrong. Council tax on a large property can be £200 a month and water, gas and electric will add up to a similar amount. In 10 years time, we could also reach a point where the majority of people in community are too old to do housework easily and can't look after such huge properties. This problem can be overcome by employing domestic help. 20 hours a week of domestic help will cost £180 a week. The 2017 report "Time for a New Winesking" lists the majority of people in community as being over 60. That means that by 2023, the majority of people in community will be over 66 (the new retirement age.) By 2027, the majority of people in community will be over 70. Church finances are not great at present. The Property Trust have already had to borrow money from the church businesses and sell lots of properties. Some time in the 2020s we might find ourselves getting into financial difficulties that are beyond remedy.
Our community is similar to a 1970s hippy commune for people who have left the rat race. The most significant difference between the post war generation and the younger generation is the concept of leaving the rat race - the older generation understands this, the younger generation does not. The younger generation have a much lower standard of living. The median average wage is falling. It has fallen, in recent years, from £27,000 to £26,500. That's not much of a fall. But the average wage should not be falling at all. Wages struggle to keep up with inflation but they very rarely start falling. Many young people are working for the minimum wage. At the same time, house prices are incredibly high. If the average mortgage is £300 a week, that is equivalent to the whole of the salary of someone on a minimum wage job. The majority of young people live in shared houses for purely economic reasons. The concept of community does not seem different to them. If the standard of living in community is higher than the standard of living outside, or, at least people living in community have more financial security, it can hardly be seen as a considerable self sacrifice or a lifestyle of poverty. Another problem is that young people have a limited choice of jobs. They may have to take jobs with anti-social hours or in other areas. Young people find it very difficult to get a job that fits in with church and community life. This also leads to another ideological problem. In the 1970s many people 'left the rat race' because they were too comfortable in life, bored with their jobs and lacked a sense of fulfillment. Many young people find their jobs sufficiently challenging to have no such ideological feelings. Young people are not bored with their jobs or too comfortable. The struggle to survive working life in the 21st century produces a sufficient sense of fulfillment.
Should we do what the Jesus Christians do in Australia? Should we sell our big houses and live in mobile homes? No. The concept of a lifestyle of poverty isn't Biblical anyway. In the Acts chapter 4, those who owned houses sold them and 'there was not a needy person among them.' The poverty concept is more hippy/Children of God/1970s Christian socialism than actually based on Scripture. Property was sold, in the days of Barnabbas, to relieve poverty, not to create it. If it was not a Biblical command to live in poverty, was it a Biblical command to live together in one house and to share one bank account? I am aware of many Christians who are argue strongly for this position and an equal number who argue strongly against it. I won't get involved in this argument. It misses the point. There was incredibly close fellowship and incredible generosity among the first Christians. They gave to those who had need, and there were many people in need in the 1st century, and they sold what they had. That generosity is more important than the question of whether they shared the same bank account. They spent time together and ate in each other's homes. The question of whether they had one big house or a number of small ones is irrelevant. There are other churches where I could just mention that a disabled man needed an electric wheelchair, in a prayer meeting, and someone would buy him one the next day. Christians have bought cars for each other, who have never lived in common purse community, and paid for someone else's daughter to go to a private school, just because she was depressed about having to go to a rough comprehensive. I don't believe you can manufacture that kind of generosity by putting everyone's money in one bank account or manufacture that kind of closeness by moving everybody into a big house. The early church had no such buildings. I believe that it needed none. A closeness of fellowship and a generosity of money were natural to Christians in the early church. They required no mechanism to create them.
One other difference between older people and younger people is their attitude to housework. Post war generation women were quite happy to dedicate their whole life to doing it. I asked one of the church's leaders whether he thought it was right that his daughter had to cook the agape meal on Tuesday when she had a baby to look after. He said, 'That's nothing. My wife had to cook the dinner 6 times a week and do all the laundry and cleaning for a big community house and she had 4 young children.' Older women had no problem at all with dedicating their whole life to the domestic chores of a community house. Modern women strongly dislike it. 5 years ago, one household was asked why it had employed a male domestic. Couldn't they get any women? A strange question to ask, and we might be accused of discrimination. The male domestic got his job anyway. But here is my point - that community house couldn't get a female domestic. They couldn't get a woman to do most of their housework even if they paid her to. They had had a young woman but she had not been willing to do the job long term. Young women in the 21st century don't want to be domestics. A man, on the other hand, wants to do some of the housework. His ability to cook dinner or iron a shirt is an indicator of his transition to adulthood and important to his self respect. Men in a traditional community house may feel that they are being excessively mothered, that they are not allowed to do things themselves that they would like to take part in. How easy is it to run a community house in which men take part in household chores? It can be difficult when work and church commitments take up long periods of time. If the men spend all day at work and spend evenings and weekends in church meetings it can become frustrating trying to find the time to do housework. It also creates difficulties in small kitchens and washrooms where there may be too many people trying to cook their own dinner or wash their own clothes. There were good practical reasons why traditional society, of which community was a part, had separate roles for men and women. Domesticating men isn't an easy solution to the problem of the remaining domestic sisters becoming too old to do the housework. It is a possible solution but it would require a lot of thought and organisation. This is certainly another reason for the generation gap - how community can be popular with the old and unpopular with the young.
Why don't we build blocks of flats and live close together in our own apartments? This is not a totally bad idea. The Jesus People did it in America. Many of their large communities of the 60s and 70s have been replaced by apartment blocks. I think that the main problem we would have with this would be financial. To have your own flat would cost money. If people want their own bathroom, wash room, kitchen, and lounge and a spare bedroom for any visitors to the community, this is expensive. 2 bedroom apartments cost £600 a month in Sheffield and £1200 a month on Brighton sea front. If house prices have exploded to the point where many young people rent a room in a shared house out of economic necessity, it's hard to see how they could afford apartments much bigger than those of their peers. Some of the church's larger community houses have been sold and replaced with smaller ones. The church dislikes this as they can sell a house for £700,000 which has 15 bedrooms and then end up paying £1 million for 3 smaller 5 bedroom properties. Traditional big community houses are not popular with families and end up being sold at auction or brought by property developers. Small houses are popular with families, and therefore can be much more expensive. New kinds of housing development for community might prove more costly than most church members can afford.