On March 6, 2020, I arrived with the Rev. Heidi Brear and the four residents of Hineni House at an Airbnb in Garden Bay, Sechelt territory.
Hineni House is an intentional community sponsored by St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Cedar Cottage, in East Vancouver. An innovative ministry hosted in the church’s former rectory, Hineni House aims to provide a home for young adults (ages 18-30ish) looking to live together and learn about spirituality, whatever form that might take, in placements for up to three years. It is interfaith and queer/trans affirming, and offers weekly programming which helps to build a sense of community, transform conflict, and facilitate discussion on a wide variety of spiritual topics, from prayer practices to the Enneagram to guest speakers from a multitude of sacred traditions.
Once a year, the whole house goes on retreat somewhere offsite. We’ve been to Rivendell Retreat Centre on Nex̱wlélex̱m (Bowen Island), and Consolation House at Gibsons Landing in Skwxwú7mesh territory, but this year we had to think outside the box as we couldn’t get space at a time that worked for everyone. The Airbnb house was perfect for us – large, stunning picture windows, a nice big kitchen for our shared meals, and a walkway down to a stony beach area. We stood there that evening, singing the songs we always sing to mark our time together: “Welcome Here” by Rachael Weasley, and “All Shall Be Well” by the Rev. Andrew Halladay. That day had been perfectly clear, and yet in perfect BC March fashion we woke up the next morning to a light dusting of snow.
We explored the theme of exile and pilgrimage that weekend, using a small makeshift Desert Box inspired by the Godly Play curriculum, and guided meditations on three passages: Matthew 4:1-11 (Jesus’s temptation), Exodus 3:1-6 (the story of Moses at the burning bush), and Surah 19, the Qur’anic account of the birth of Jesus, which took place in the desert. As we contemplated this time of exile together, we were more and more unsettled by the news of COVID-19 spreading across the globe and altering our lives. It was strange to watch from our tiny slice of calm as we played music and cooked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.
Although I did attend one more Eucharist after that, the retreat felt like the last real in-person event I took part in before the pandemic shut down the world.
Thankfully, that year’s cohort of “Hinenites” (as I affectionately call them) were a deeply bonded group of women who supported each other pretty well over the course of that first year. We were able to switch to Zoom for our weekly gatherings, and it was an okay substitute although we all missed eating dinner together. We had a lot to adapt, but it wasn’t as onerous as it could have been. We had some gatherings in the beautiful backyard once the weather got warmer, and we were even able to do an adapted house blessing with a re-purposed “Beating of the Bounds” liturgy on Zoom that didn’t require anyone to enter. There was much to celebrate, mourn, and pray for over that year: losses, wins, pain, laughter, and personal crises were ever-present and monumental, but all through it, the women of Hineni persevered. It reminded me, in a way I never could have discovered on my own, of the huge gift of supportive community, and the strength it brings to so many in times of great hardship.
This year, Hineni House has several spots available, and we are curious about who God might send to us. Our people have brought strengths and growing edges, stories of triumph and trauma, and as many images of the divine as have lived within our sheltering walls. We have been, and are, a home for spiritual wanderers of all stripes: Canadian citizens and immigrants, refugee claimants, queer and trans folks, men, women, and nonbinary people, introverts and extroverts, every number on the Enneagram, every colour and creed.
Maybe we can be a home for you, or someone you love.
Wherever you are and whoever you are on this journey, you are welcome here.
Learn more about us at hinenihouse.org, and be sure to like us on Facebook. You can also contact me, the Rev. Clare Morgan (they/them), community director, by email.