2017 was an eventful and adventurous year at Jonah House in Baltimore! During the winter months, we spent some time hibernating. We had to do a lot of splitting and stacking wood for our two wood burning stoves. Later in the winter we were occupied with planning the vegetable and herb gardens, then with planting seeds and cultivating new plants in our greenhouse.
We also had our regular food pantry ministry to keep us busy. Every Monday we went to the Maryland Food Bank to pick up discounted food and free fresh produce, and brought it home in our van to process in the pantry. Then on Tuesdays, from 9am to 12pm, we were in the pantry handing out food boxes to low-income friends in the neighborhood. Over the year, we gave out almost 4,500 boxes and half as many emergency bags. Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more demand in West Baltimore, one of the more impoverished and underserved areas of Baltimore.
We had a few student groups visiting us over the winter and into the spring. A group from Xavier University in Cincinnati came for a day in January. They did some work outside at Jonah House, and at Tubman House, near the Gilmore Homes in West Baltimore, where they helped prepare raised garden beds that have been set up in abandoned lots. In the evening, we had a feast and did some reflection on the work of peace and justice in Baltimore, and the rest of the world. This one day was inspiring for one of the Xavier Students in particular: Josh Menke agreed to come back in the summer as an intern (he ended up staying with us for two months). Later, in early March, a group from Loyola University Chicago came to visit for a week, as part of Loyola’s extensive alternative spring break immersion program. Again, they worked at Jonah House and Tubman House. During the week, we broke bread and reflected on the four roots of Jonah House: community, spirituality, activism, and stewardship. In the evenings, we had fun playing “Fishbowl.” The group also had the opportunity to attend a couple of marches. The first was a Women’s Strike march in Baltimore, to commemorate International Women’s Day. The second was a march on the White House by Sioux water protectors from Standing Rock, North Dakota. Finally, a group from Loras College came for a short visit during Holy Week. The day after their visit, they drove to Washington DC, to take part in the Holy Week Faith and Resistance Retreat sponsored by Dorothy Day House. They witnessed at the Pentagon, and were there as Joe Byrne of Jonah House was arrested protesting for peace!
Jonah House continued to witness for peace and justice when the students went home. Tucker, Joe, and sometimes Emily did public “sits” in which we would go to City Hall Park, across from the War Memorial, in Baltimore, and do silent sitting meditation, while surrounded with signs that proclaimed our deep desire for peace and justice. During the year, Jonah House was also able to participate in events sponsored by the Atlantic Life Community, including two retreats and Faith and Resistance events during the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Holy Week, and the anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The summer, as usual, was a busy time at Jonah House. We had our fruit orchard to attend to, beginning with a “pruning party” in early spring. We also had our extensive garden to look after. Emily did much of the work there, with the help of many volunteers, including some of our Tuesday pantry folks. For a bag of produce, they would come Thursday mornings to plant, weed, and harvest. Meanwhile Tucker, with the help of his dad, built a chicken coop and yard. We now have fourteen hens laying upwards of a dozen eggs a day!
Throughout the summer we were able to bring in quite a bit of produce, preserving some of it, using some of it to feed the Jonah House community, the rest of it going into the food pantry boxes. We did pretty well with our fruit trees as well. The figs in particular were prolific, as were the grapes. We were able to harvest quite a few apples too, but the pear harvest was poor. This was due to the fact that the pears ripened a month early and were attacked by fruit-eating hornets. Last year we brought in five or six bushels; this year a half bushel. This brought home to us the very real threat posed by global warming and climate chaos.
Our community life was quite rich in 2017, including lively meals with the children, Auggie and Evie, often followed by quiet sitting meditation after the kids had been put to bed. But there were some changes in the composition of the community, with more to come in 2018. The three “emeritus” members of the community—Liz McAlister, Ardeth Platte, and Carol Gilbert—left us in 2017. Liz moved to New York City, while Ardeth and Carol went to Dorothy Day House in DC, where they plan to devote themselves to their ministry of “itinerant preaching” for peace. All three spent quite a bit of time at the United Nations in New York City educating and lobbying member nations about the Nuclea
r Weapon Abolition Treaty. This treaty was signed on July 7 by most of the world’s nations (but not, alas, the countries—like the United States—that have nuclear weapon arsenals), and will soon be ratified. The main NGO working for the treaty, ICANW (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, thanks to the dedicated and selfless efforts of people all over the world, including Liz, Ardeth, and Carol.
Meanwhile, after much discernment, Tucker and Emily decided to leave Jonah House. They and their kids will be moving out in May 2018, so that they can be closer to family in the Midwest, and Tucker can pursue an academic career. Like Liz, Ardeth, and Carol, they will be missed mightily! Joe remains to carry on the work of Jonah House and is excited about welcoming in two new members to the community. Ausur Amen and Ayo Rodan have been an extensive part of our community and work in west Baltimore over the past two years and are thrilled to be joining Joe in May to continue the work here at Jonah House. The community is still recruiting additional members so if you know anyone who would like to do the work of peace and justice in the context of intentional community, please contact Jonah House.
Finally, we are very grateful for all the volunteers who pitched in during 2017, and those who sent us donations to do our work. We couldn’t do it without you! As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Christmas Sermon in 1967, “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, woven into a single garment of destiny. . . . We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.” Thanks for joining us in our work and play! We hope and pray you will continue to do so in the years to come.