Podcast Episode 10
An interview with Jack Sharpe from the Bethlehem Community of Bathgate, ND. The Bethlehem Community publishes children’s literature as Bethlehem Books.
The History of the Bethlehem Community
The Beginnings in Portland
Jack tells the fascinating story of the Bethlehem community’s development over time. It started as a Charismatic young adult ministry associated with a Baptist church in Portland Oregon; at one point over 80 young adults lived in the 15 houses associated with the group. Over time, the commitment of the members to community life deepened, and they became an independent community, with the members living together and holding all property in common. They gave up their individual jobs and opened a bakery to support the community.
Joining the Catholic Church
As time went on, they felt the need to belong to something bigger than themselves; they studied the Early Church and monastic traditions. Eventually, this led the community to enter the Catholic Church in 1993.
At the same time, the bakery wasn’t working out for the community. They took a leap of faith by starting a publishing house, Bethlehem Books, dedicated to Christian children’s literature, even though they had no experience with this kind of work. To finance their first print run, they sold the bakery and apartment building. Then they waited for God to provide.
Publishing Books and Answering Phones as Benedictines
God provided through Fr. Fessio, who hired the community to answer the 800 number for Ignatius Press. This income gave them the freedom to run Bethlehem Books without worrying about turning a profit.
Through mutual friends, they found a permanent home at a former state school for the blind in Bathgate ND. They also found a permanent spiritual home as Benedictine Oblates; this allowed them to connect to a spirituality and way of life larger and older than their community.
Experience of Community Life
50 years of community experience has given Jack Sharpe a lot of wisdom about living with others. After he outlined the history of his community, we had a fascinating discussion of these more theoretic topics.
He outlined the proper relationship to authority, which is crucial to any successful community. Dysfunctional communities have a fearful relationship with authorities inside and outside the community, which manifests as abject submission to community leaders and total rejection of authorities outside the community.
Community not Clique
Communities can not be made up of people who are all alike. If that is what brings people together, the result will be a clique, not a community. The Grace of Christ working through the mystical body can bind together diverse human beings in love.
“The Humble Hear and are Glad”
We also discussed the importance of humility in community formation and communal life. Starting out with utopian ideals of perfection is unlikely to get a group very far. Even more importantly, the community has to make sure that the weaker members are able to “stay the pace.” Jack quoted psalm 34: the humble will hear and be glad. Is the message of a community making the humble and weak glad?
A Foundation of Love
We concluded by talking about the love of Christ and neighbor as the only true foundation for community life.
Listen to the episode to learn more about this fascinating community!
Header image: Casa Maria and “Rolf and the Viking Bow”, courtesy of Bethlehem Books