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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 https://www.thefireplacecommunity.org/

Focus Questions:

  1. The Fireplace names their values as “rest, hospitality, community, inclusion, sustainability, solidarity, creativity, spirituality, and joy.” What are your community’s values? How are these values lived and embodied by the community as individuals and as a whole?
  2. The Fireplace takes pride in the variety of spiritual traditions and practices it celebrates. How is your community being called to explore different spiritual traditions and practices?

Do you know of or belong to a community that you would like to see highlighted? Reach out to Martha at martha@futurechurch.org.