Skip to main content

The Fireplace Community Brings the Flames of Pentecost to Life

The Fireplace has a set of values that have been defined by its members: rest, hospitality, community, inclusion, sustainability, solidarity, creativity, spirituality, and joy.

On an unassuming residential street in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, an emerging model of intentional community is creating a place of rest, spiritual growth, and joy. According to its website, The Fireplace started in February 2021 by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA and Sister Sharon Dillon, SSJ-TOSF, is an intentional community of artists, activists, and spiritual seekers. From its seven residential members – to the larger community that gathers at the residence for dinners, spirituality nights, events and celebrations, The Fireplace has certainly become a place of companionship for all who walk up its front steps. 

In a recent interview with residents Kalen Cobb and Abby Rampone, I learned just what a difference community makes, and why its presence is so important. “I moved to Chicago at the beginning of 2023 and I was living by myself, and that was a very lonely experience,” recalls Kalen, the newest resident of The Fireplace. “Not only in terms of physical loneliness but I think spiritual loneliness as well, so it’s really nice to have a built-in community that addresses  both of those aspects.”  Kalen, a mental health therapist by trade, does not overlook the importance of coming home to a group of people who share similar values. She explains, “we really do live into the value of community. I think from the first moment I walked into the space I felt welcomed.” Abby echoed the life-giving  nature of community-living, adding, “I struggled a lot with living by myself and feeling lonely as an adult, and I don’t think that’s how we are meant to live. I think we’re all called to community, and intentional community is one particular manifestation of that.”

The Fireplace community, explains Kalen and Abby, is comprised of both live-in residents and community members who are drawn to community life, as well as to an intentional focus on spiritual growth. Though the community was formed by two religious sisters, it is not a requirement to be a practicing Catholic. “It runs the gamut from people who attend daily Mass at a canonical Catholic parish to people who don’t go to Mass at all. While six of the seven residents identify with Catholicism in some way, it looks really different for each one of us and our practice looks different,” shares Abby. 

Residents and any interested community members participate in spirituality nights twice a week, led by a member of the community. Each prayer leader brings their own spiritual identity and interests into their sharing, resulting in “prayer that is as personalized as that person,” says Kalen. Therefore, the community is exposed to a wide range of spiritual traditions. While the community has blossomed from Catholic roots, it is a self-governed entity that is not under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago, giving it freedom to engage in spiritual practices in novel ways. From women-led liturgies, to Taize prayer services, from post-Easter Vigil midnight breakfast to the wedding of a same-sex couple in the extended community– there is no shortage of creative expressions of spiritual celebration at The Fireplace. This, says Abby, is one of the things she loves most about the community:

“I love all the celebrations. Even just the way that we mark time in the liturgical year. Doing things for Advent, always doing the chalk over the doors for the Feast of the Three Kings.  I love the celebrations and the marking of the passing of time. Because when you live by yourself and you’re disconnected from community, all time can sort of start to feel the same. So I really love the sort of celebratory marking of the seasons.”

The Fireplace has a set of values that have been defined by its members: rest, hospitality, community, inclusion, sustainability, solidarity, creativity, spirituality, and joy. But as the community hits its three year mark, it is discerning the best ways to carry those values into the future. “We all have beautiful ideals and commitments,” Abby comments, “a true genuine commitment to what this place can be. But growing edges can be the nitty-gritty. How do you actually run a community? How do you do the finances, how do you make decisions? How do you establish policies and procedures in case something goes wrong?” Together with community members, residents are continuing the work of living into the future of The Fireplace. As they look to the future, they share communal hopes for The Fireplace’s thriving. “My dream is that this community can live past any of us who currently live here,” shares Abby. She adds, “And that it can be a hub for progressive Catholics to find community– an alternative catholic space where Catholics and non-Catholics alike can find a spiritual home.” 

Despite its openness to growth and the changes that come with it, Abby and Kalen add that they never want the community to lose its sense of joy. 

“Being in community does not mean hanging out with your best friends– that can be part of community– but being in community life calls you to see every person as imaging Christ and imaging the divine and showing up for them as best as you can. I find this grounding and meaningful. And important.” 

As The Fireplace continues to live into its mission as a community of compassion, creativity, and contemplation, I am inspired by its model as an inclusive and faith-forward community, and I  look forward to seeing how it continues to thrive. To learn more about The Fireplace Community, visit

Do you know of or belong to a community that you would like to see highlighted? Reach out to Martha at

Amid synod process, Catholics continue to call for expanded church roles for women

Excerpt: But the listening sessions are not the only way that FutureChurch is engaging with the synod. A new project, called “Mary Magadalene Goes to the Synod,” addresses the synod’s mention of the need to widen liturgical texts to include “a range of words, images and narratives that draw more widely on women’s experience,” as the October synthesis document said.

Sisters bid farewell to a beloved bishop and friend, Tom Gumbleton

Excerpt: Created by Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Peggy Schmidt, the prayer service celebrated Gumbleton’s lifelong commitment to living his episcopal motto “Be Doers of the Word.” It was simple, contemplative and gently emphasized the wide-ranging — sometimes risky — actions this prophetic bishop took on behalf of peace and justice.

I wondered how this unique prayer and visitation had come to be. Over the next week I was privileged to interview not only Schmidt, but also Gumbleton’s longtime friend and biographer Sr. Sue Sattler; his friend Brian Joseph, who had overseen all funeral arrangements; and his dearly loved sister, Irene Gumbleton, also an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister. The latter three accompanied the bishop during his final weeks, days and hours of life. Below I share an account of this graced time of accompaniment, some treasured memories and how this special IHM send-off came to be.

African American Readings of Paul with Lisa Marie Bowens

FutureChurch welcomes Princeton Theological Seminary Associate Professor of New Testament, Lisa Marie Bowens, who discusses her ground-breaking book, African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation.

Part One

In part one, Dr. Bowens highlights early Black women preachers and petitions from her book that reclaim the liberating messages of scripture to oppose slavery.

Part Two

In part two, Dr. Bowens finishes her exploration of early Black women preachers with a discussion of Julia Foote. She then discusses early and mid 20th Century ministers and interpreters of Scripture, including Ida Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as they resist segregation.

African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation (Eerdmans 2020), is the first book to investigate a historical trajectory of how African Americans have understood Paul and utilized his work to resist and protest injustice and racism in their own writings from the 1700s to the mid-twentieth century. In it, Dr. Bowens takes a historical, theological, and biblical approach to explore interpretations of Paul within African American communities over the past few centuries. She surveys a wealth of primary sources from the early 1700s to the mid-twentieth century, including sermons, conversion stories, slave petitions, and autobiographies of ex-slaves, many of which introduce readers to previously unknown names in the history of New Testament interpretation. Along with their hermeneutical value, these texts also provide fresh documentation of Black religious life through wide swaths of American history. African American Readings of Paul promises to change the landscape of Pauline studies and fill an important gap in the rising field of reception history.

Lisa Marie Bowens, PhD, associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, earned a BS (cum laude), MSBE, and MLIS from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, an MTS and ThM from Duke Divinity School, and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the first African American woman to earn tenure in Princeton Seminary’s Bible department. Her research interests include Paul and apocalyptic literature, Pauline anthropology, Pauline epistemology, discipleship in the gospels, African American Pauline Hermeneutics, and New Testament exegesis and interpretation. She is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Society for the Study of Black Religion, American Academy of Religion, and a past Fund for Theological Education fellow. Her current projects include working as a contributor and co-editor with Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica on Preaching Romans From Here: Diverse Voices Engage Paul’s Most Famous Letter (forthcoming), contributor and co-editor with Dennis Edwards on Do Black Lives Matter?: How Christian Scriptures Speak to Black Empowerment, and two commentaries, one on 2 Corinthians and one on 1-2 Thessalonians.

FutureChurch stands with our LGBTQ+ siblings who are failed and harmed by Vatican document, Dignitas Infinita

On Monday, April 8, 2024, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith released a declaration on human dignity entitled Dignitas Infinita (Infinity Dignity). Meant to affirm the inherent and inalienable dignity of each human person and defend their rights and freedoms, the declaration tragically fails the LGBTQ+ community – particularly transgender, nonbinary, and other gender diverse people – by clinging to long-outdated and harmful ideas of gender essentialism that particularly dismiss their lived experiences.

We are alarmed that – despite the Vatican’s denunciation of “unjust discrimination” and “particularly any form of aggression and violence” –  the declaration inflicts real spiritual and psychological harm and perpetuates ideas and attitudes that create and foster physically and legally dangerous environments for our already vulnerable siblings.

Particularly offensive is the document’s assertion that those who seek to better understand their gender identity or pursue gender-affirming care “make oneself God.” This is not the lived experience of transgender persons, who authentically strive – despite much resistance from Church and society – to discern and live into the fullness of their humanity as part of God’s diverse and beloved creation.

To the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those who are transgender or non-binary: know that you are a beloved child of God and an equal member of the Body of Christ. You are, in fact, beautiful manifestations of God’s fullness and glory. FutureChurch affirms and celebrates you and the gifts and witness you offer to our world and our church. We are blessed by you, and we stand with you as we seek a church that finally and truly welcomes you as God created you and a church that will stand up for and defend your rights and infinite dignity.

To that end, we wish to lift up the critiques offered by our friends and partners at DignityUSA and New Ways Ministry. And we encourage the FutureChurch community to read and share these important and powerful statements and stand in solidarity with these prophetic organizations.

To friends, family, and allies of the LGBTQ+ community: we know that you are impacted by this declaration too. We invite you to educate and empower yourself to support and advocate for your loved ones using the helpful resources and suggestions these organizations have compiled on their websites here (DignityUSA) and here (New Ways Ministry).

Synod Interim Stage Synthesis

During Lent of 2024, FutureChurch organized three listening sessions for the interim stage of the Synod on Communion, Participation, and Mission (Synod on Synodality). More than 100 individuals responded to our invitation to engage in Conversations in the Spirit based on the questions offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and to discern the movement of the Spirit in our midst. An additional 88 responses were collected through our online questionnaire, which posed the same questions.

A small writing team which included FutureChurch staff and board members undertook the task of synthesizing our listening sessions and questionnaire responses as a sacred responsibility and privilege, and we proudly share the fruits of our conversations with the larger Church.

FutureChurch submitted the report below to the United States Synod team as well as the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. In addition, we have been shared the report with a number of US-based delegates, experts, and consultants to the Synod.

To very briefly summarize: Our conversations revealed a sense that the Church best lives into its call to be a community of love and mercy when all the baptized are involved as co-equals in the life and mission of the Church. We fail to live into that call when we rigidly cling to dogmas and practices that deny or diminish human dignity, and the Spirit that dwells within, thereby preventing dialogue and encounter.  We sensed that the Spirit is calling us to move forward as a synodal Church rooted in the teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council – free of clericalism – with an empowered laity, an open and reformed priesthood, and a commitment to engaging and living Catholic Social Teaching in the world.

Read FutureChurch’s Interim Stage Synthesis


FutureChurch Mourns the Death of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Retired Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton died on Thursday, April 4, 2024 at the age 94. Bishop Gumbleton was known for his advocacy and activism on a number of important social issues from nuclear disarmament, to ending hunger, to eradicating racism. An active participant in the Catholic peace and justice movement, Gumbleton was a founding member of both Pax Christi USA and Bread for the World. He was also courageously outspoken on issues of justice in the Church – including the ordination of women, the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, and accountability for perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse.

“Bishop Gumbleton was a good friend, ally, and source of inspiration to so many who worked for justice in the world and in the Catholic Church,” said Russ Petrus, executive director of FutureChurch. “His prophetic presence in the hierarchy and his compassionate solidarity at the peripheries will be sorely missed.”

Left to Right: Deborah Rose, Bishop Gumbleton, and Christine Schenk, CSJ

A long-time friend of FutureChurch, Bishop Gumbleton was present and co-presided at the 2013 prayer service for the transition of leadership from founding executive director Christine Schenk, CSJ to her successor Deborah Rose, who retired at the end of 2023. Schenk described Bishop Gumbleton as a “grace-filled, loving, and inspiring leader.” And Rose said “he banished shadows with his light.”

Bishop Gumbleton briefly served as a member of the FutureChurch board and most recently as board member emeritus.

FutureChurch joins his family, friends, and loved ones in prayer and thanksgiving for his life:

Eternal rest, grant unto him, Loving God,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.

Mary Magdalene: Her Easter Proclamation and Why It Matters

FutureChurch Program Associate, Olivia Hastie, moderates an intergenerational panel of women in scholarship and ministry to explore how Mary Magdalene continues to inspire us today, why it is important that we reclaim and tell her true story, and what difference it would make in the lives of people of faith to hear the full story on Easter Sunday.

About our Panelists:

Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ was professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union at Chicago for 26 years, and is professor emerita from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. She is the author or editor of many books and articles on topics of New Testament and Early Church.

Laura Boysen-Aragón is the Development Director at the Loyola Institute for Spirituality (LIS) in Orange, CA where she brings to her work a deep commitment to Ignatian spirituality and a faith that seeks justice. Laura has felt a strong call to the priesthood for many years. She continues discerning how to live out that call.

Molly Cahill is an assistant editor at America Media, where she previously completed a one-year media fellowship after her graduation from Boston College. She is passionate about theology, activism, journalism, and the arts.

Martha Ligas is a spiritual director, lay minister, preacher, and educator. She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Ministry at Fordham University, serves as pastoral minister at the Community of St. Peter in Cleveland, OH, and is communications coordinator for FutureChurch.

Resources Mentioned in This Presentation

“Mary Magdalene Goes to the Synod” Project to Expand the Lectionary

Most Catholics, including Catholic bishops and priests, do not realize that many important stories of our foremothers in faith are excluded from our lectionary.  For instance, the full story of Mary Magdalene’s Easter proclamation of the Risen Christ is NEVER heard on Easter Sunday (John 20: 1 – 18).  Thus, Catholics are deprived of learning about the gifts, grace, courage, and ministry of women such as Mary Magdalene.

As we head towards the 2024 Synod, help us to share the Good News that women have been integral to shaping our Christian tradition and their inspirational stories should be included in our lectionary!

Learn more