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A piece of communal paradise in Baltimore


This weekend three of my dearest friends and I camped one night in a Baltimore graveyard. The St. Peter's Graveyard was abandoned by the church in the late 60s, but it was rescued by the community of nonviolent resistance, Jonah House. The great Liz MacAllister, and her late great husband Phil Berrigan founded Jonah House together more than 30 years ago. The place is simply a piece of paradise in the middle of an inner city. The paradise is created not by the wonderful setting of the graveyard and the woods over-growing one side of the property, nor of the bountiful apple and plum trees on the property. The paradise that has been created by Jonah House is their community. I was truly touched by the warm reception and absolute inclusion we received from Liz (who always makes an impression on me), Susan Crane, Joe, and Sisters Ardeth and Carol (of the Colorado Ploughshares action). Eta and Mike were away on their honeymoon still. Soon after arriving, Susan gave us a tour of the house, including a beautiful garden room with goldfish and a compost toilet and the basement food pantry where they gather food for distribution to the poor throughout their neighborhood.

We spent a good part of the afternoon touring the graveyard. It is sad to realize that the church was simply going to leave this old graveyard to be forgotten. I saw many tombstones dating from the 1870s, and as late as the early 1960s. We also got to meet the many guinea hens, hair sheep, the two nubian goats (known from protests at the White House) Paul and Silas, and the two peaceful and elegant black llamas Naomi and Micah. We observed Naomi leading the herd around the property (minus the guinea hens who appeared to have their own nomadic community), and David began painting the animals. Liz later remarked that he had captured much of the gregarious Silas' personality.

The community is incredibly spiritual and welcoming, and after a game of "community Scrabble" with Liz and Susan, we retired for the evening. Luckily the rain had reduced the temperature. Eve was in one tent, Malachy and I shared another tent. And David was generously offered a room in the house.

Sunday we woke and walked a bit around the property before Jonah House's larger faith community arrived for their Sunday Worship. It was an incredibly welcoming service, although clearly Christian in orientation, it was very welcoming of other faith traditions -- emphasizing that we all had something extremely valuable to share and contribute. Sister Ardeth lead us in our worship, and she used some fascinating scripture passages to discuss concepts of exclusion and inclusion. We all shared our own experiences of being excluded, so we could always remember to make attempts to include others in the future.

We ended our visit with watching the film "Conviction," which was a documentary of Carol and Ardeth's (and one other Dominican Sister) Ploughshares Action in 2002. Ardeth and an Irish woman who played guitar during the service chatted with us a bit after the film as we readied for our departure. This documentary was truly inspiring. Eve and Malachy told me later their initial reactions were a readiness to hammer on missile silos. I thought to myself, maybe someday when I am retired I'll join this tradition started by Phil Berrigan himself; I bowed my head the last time I passed his grave on the property.

All of us agreed that we'll all remember our first visit to Jonah House. And I look forward to our next visit.

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