ATLANTA, Ga. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Tents may be temporary, but one group of tentmakers are staking their ministry in Atlanta long-term.
Home ownership and local young adults committed to service are opening the DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection)
program onto new thresholds. Buying a house is a first for the program and represents its commitment to being a sustained presence in Atlanta. The DOOR house will join the existing Dwell house in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood in hosting yearlong Dwell volunteers.
DOOR, one of Mennonite Mission Network’s Christian service programs, offers a variety of short-term urban service experiences for groups and individuals. Dwell is DOOR’s yearlong service program that invites young adults to explore urban ministry and witness God at work in the city.
In Atlanta, the Dwell program has taken a different shape than in other locations. While many participants come to the program from around the country to volunteer, the Atlanta Dwell house this year hosts five “tentmakers,” all from the Atlanta area.
“In Atlanta, we’ve seen a lot of interest in people living in intentional community, possibly stemming some from the popularity of writers like Shane Claiborne. And this experience is so valuable, because it allows you to integrate spiritual disciplines into your regular life,” said Jannan Thomas, DOOR Atlanta city director, who lives in the Capitol View neighborhood, where the new home is located.
These young adults hold paying jobs and have chosen to live together in intentional Christian community and minister in their home area. Together, members of the Dwell house pray together and study topics like classism, racism, and gentrification. Dwellers also work to partner and undergird work that is already ongoing throughout the city and in their neighborhood.
“We’re not just putting volunteers into a needy neighborhood. We’re asking them to learn about assets-based community development and to learn what the biblical call to be a neighbor means,” said Thomas.
Dwell is cementing its presence in the city by buying a house in Capitol View, a diverse area experiencing a shift in population. Many of the homes in the neighborhood are in foreclosure and the Capitol View zip code has the highest rate of mortgage fraud in the country. The availability of inexpensive housing has led to an influx of new, middle-class neighbors and the area is beginning to experience gentrification.
Capitol View is also a historic area with a large, effective neighborhood association, and has a tradition of regular neighborhood potluck meals and boasts several active congregations.
“I went through a phase where I was critical of gentrification, but I’ve come to see it as inevitable. So, like with all of life, I think we need to find a way to do something beautiful with it and bring people along,” said Troy Bronsink, DOOR board member, who lives in and pastors an emergent congregation in Capitol View. “I’m a big proponent of intentional neighboring.”
Atlanta Dwellers have each committed to spending time volunteering and connecting with the neighborhood.
“It’s a special thing to be living with a group of committed Christians interested in sharing the journey of discipleship together, but it’s nice to have the flexibility to do work outside the community, too,” said Dwell participant Alan Jenkins, who started an environmental justice ministry within the Presbyterian church.
The Dwellers’ initiatives include helping to start a community garden, mentoring students at a local school, and providing graphic design and Web services for small church agencies and non-profit organizations that could not otherwise afford them.
“Living in community has been great. I’ve realized that living alone wasn’t for me, and this community has fed my soul. And not only that, we’re a wonderful extension of each other’s ministries,” said Tom Livengood, a Dwell participant who has helped to initiate and lead the Living Room Fellowship, an emergent group that meets down the road from the current Dwell house.
The new house in the Capitol View neighborhood will serve as yet another extension of Dwell’s ministries. Volunteers, board members and people from the neighborhood are helping to renovate the house for use in fall 2009.
For more information on the DOOR program and to apply online, visit Service.MennoniteMission.net. Dwell placements are also currently available in Chicago, Denver, Hollywood, Miami and San Antonio.