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Elderspirit: Our Vocation of Peacemaking

by Linda and Bill Mashburn


November 17, 2014

Elderspirit: Our Vocation of Peacemaking

Bill and Linda Mashburn

This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of the BPFNA to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.

We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next several weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph before the end of 2014. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website.

Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!

This essay is adapted from a two-person sermon Linda and Bill preached at BPFNA Partner Congregation Circle of Mercy. As long-time members of the Circle, Bill and Linda shared this message just before they moved to their new home, a retirement community in Abingdon, VA.

LINDA: We all grow old! Or at least most of us do, unless like the prophets and Jesus, we risk our lives for peace and justice and lose them--or something else happens that cuts us short. So, should we "take no thought for the morrow" or should we plan? If we don't plan, we may become a burden to our children, or have to let Medicaid place us in an assisted living unit or a skilled nursing facility--not very attractive alternatives.

BILL: The result in the last forty years or so has been the development of retirement communities. My mother lived at Highland Farms in Black Mountain for almost 15 years, and Linda's parents moved to Carolina Village in Hendersonville in 1975, so her father was there for 14 years and her mother for 25. They lived very comfortably in those retirement communities, and our children grew up visiting there.

LINDA: However, there are a number of features of such retirement communities that go against some of the major values that Bill and I hold in common. Perhaps the most obvious is that these communities where our parents lived, and those like them, are all very expensive. Because they are expensive, their residents are not a diverse lot--they are upper-middle class white folks. So these residences become a self-segregating community. Part of the expense of these places is the extensive staff, whose job it is to provide meals, transportation, services, care when needed, and to plan social activities. Friendships form, of course, but residents are not dependent on the other members of the community.

So let me tell you how Bill and I became involved in planning an alternative retirement community to which we are moving. Some of you know that for more than 45 years, I have been part of a religious community of ex-nuns who all left their order in 1967 when the Bishop of Cincinnati wasn't ready to move into Vatican II changes. The community became very ecumenical as some members married Protestants and others, such as Bill and I joined, but it still remained a spiritual community. Members supported each other emotionally, spiritually, and occasionally physically, although the community met officially only two weekends a year.

So, when retirement years approached for the oldest members, fifteen years ago, some talking and planning began, and Bill and I became a part of those discussions. What were the important values the group wanted to build into such an alternative retirement place?

BILL: First they wanted to create a true community of pledged mutual support--which means that everyone who joins pledges mutual care of each other through illnesses, surgeries, or temporary incapacities. This doesn't mean nursing home level care, but it does mean transportation to physician appointments or rehabilitation, help with meals or groceries, or just sitting with someone while their care-giver runs errands. There is almost no staff, except for a very part-time administrator to collect rents and arrange for some maintenance tasks and repairs.

Another part of the community commitment is agreement to serve on at least one committee. Committee work ranges from coordinating common meals, to landscaping, to the spiritual life of the community. Everyone is a part of either a cooking team or a clean up team for common meals. Membership meetings are held monthly at which the committees make reports.

Secondly, they wanted to create an economically diverse community that could potentially become racially integrated, so two things were done. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds were applied for to build 16 of the 29 units--over half, which means that people on limited income never have to spend more than 1/3 of their income on rent. The other 13 units were purchased to give some initial capital for the project, and that is where Linda and I made an investment. Besides the HUD grant, the land for the community lies on one of the main streets of the historic African American community in Abingdon, and members of that community served with me on the initial development board and continue to serve on the current incorporation board.

LINDA: Another value given importance in the planning was that the buildings and grounds should be environmentally friendly. Some desired features proved to be too costly, but topsoil was saved and replaced for planting vegetable gardens and landscaping. Southern exposures were maximized, and all 29 units plus the common house and "spirit center" fit on the 4 acres of land. Perhaps the greatest ecological boon is the extent to which the community shares space, resources, and tools. The modest common house has a couple of guest rooms, so no one needs to have those privately. A huge art/craft studio with great natural lighting has space for projects of all kinds. The common dining room and kitchen can be used for common meals and community events, including exercise classes, celebrations, and Super Bowl parties. The launderette is well used by many residents, and we've enjoyed a small lounge that has a TV and the library. Bill and I have given away over half our books and made our games and puzzles available to the other residents. All of this allows us to live more simply--we share tools and don't have to have a workshop. We will be living in one-third of our current space.

BILL: Finally, perhaps the most attractive value of this alternative retirement community is centered in its name: Elderspirit. The planners and members feel strongly that aging does not have to equal stagnating--that we need to continue to grow spiritually, continue to be creative, continue to offer our talents and skills as volunteers or for pay if income is needed. And because so many of the members share our concern for peace and justice issues, there is continual information flowing about Abingdon organizations and ways to be involved. Members organize two 30 minute vesper services a week in the modest "Spirit Center"--no permanent religious symbolism is present so that all groups can feel comfortable using it, but there are some peace cranes hanging around and chairs are arranged in a circle. Time during vespers is always given to what we here call "Joys and Concerns". On Sundays, the Spirit Center is used by the local Quaker meeting, and an AA group also uses the facility.

LINDA: Finally, it is a community that plays together, often exercises together, including walking the Creeper Trail that runs along behind our unit, and especially celebrates together. On special occasions, processions take place along the "ped-way", a long wide sidewalk that runs down the middle of the community between the Spirit Center at one end and the Common House at the other end. All units either open out onto the ped-way or have a second floor deck opening to it.

In our scripture lesson for the today, when Jesus draws near Jerusalem, he weeps over it

saying "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.” Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord -- and Blessed are we whenever we know or recognize the things that make for peace.

Linda and Bill Mashburn initially retired to Brevard, NC after working careers in Statesville, NC and the western NC mountains. Bill ran regional family planning programs and was the Health Director in Statesville for 20 years, while Linda did hospital and community nursing, founding the Hot Springs Health Program in Madison County. Both were members of the Circle of Mercy in Asheville, NC until their move to Abingdon, VA

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