Small Acts of Gratuitous Love: Friendship House in Durham"Our life together has already been filled with quite a bit of joyful gatherings: cookouts, magnet-making projects, cleaning alongside one another, playing card games, praying the Psalms, ping pong at Fullsteam, and most recently a baked ziti feast... It is becoming terribly clear that my flourishing is bound up in the flourishing of each of my fellow community members."

On Sept. 22, Friendship House, a home that offers Duke Divinity School students and people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD)  the opportunity to live together in community, officially opened. In each of four apartments, three students live with one resident who has an I/DD. All live together as roommates: residents with a disability improve their independent living skills, hold down jobs, and participate fully in the life and ministry of the church; students attend classes and learn from their roommates, gaining a deeper appreciation for all people and developing a practical understanding of how to integrate people with disabilities into the church. The program, which is also open to graduate students outside of the Divinity School, is the first of its kind in North Carolina.

I wrote about the first Friendship House in Holland, MI, last year for The Christian Century (Roommates and Friends), and I was delighted to hear from Matt Floding that a new Friendship House had opened in Durham. He offered this reflection, written by Greg Little, on the initial weeks at Friendship House: 

I awoke early on a Monday morning to see five of my t-shirts folded in an unfamiliar laundry basket.  I had gone to sleep after placing my clothes in the dryer with the intention of completing the job in the morning.  Alex, my roommate and the night-crawler among us, had decided to gift me by folding my clothes, placing them at my door, and including a brief and hilarious note.  Small acts of gratuitous love – these are the things the Friendship House is already unveiling to me.

The partnership between Reality Ministries, Duke Divinity School, and HopeSpring Village is an attempt to create a living situation for divinity students (along with a couple other graduate students) and young adults living with disabilities.  We have four apartments located within the North Street Community – each apartment home to three student-residents and one friend-resident (who are each participants at Real Friends).  Through relationships of mutuality we hope to grow into a perpetually-repetitive chorus of saying to one another: "you are a gift to me and to this community."

We endeavor to share a common life with one another, and so to provide a sort of witness that claims Christ's peculiar presence among such friendships.  Sifting through the ordinary, simple habits of life together we might come to a deeper sense of vulnerability and gratitude for one another, and thus participate in God's life.  Jean Vanier famously talked about three vital elements for cultivating community – eating together, praying together, and celebrating together.  At the Friendship House, it is through these central practices that we hope to become friends and to take part in the kingdom of God.

Our life together has already been filled with quite a bit of joyful gatherings: cookouts, magnet-making projects, cleaning alongside one another, playing card games, praying the Psalms, ping pong at Fullsteam, and most recently a baked ziti feast.  Such diversity in the stuff we do together is revealing the contours of God's gracious giving.  It is becoming terribly clear that my flourishing is bound up in the flourishing of each of my fellow community members.  I am reminded of God's Gifts each day in a fresh way.

We recently gathered for a house blessing.  Parents and residents and other folks committed to this endeavor joined up to pray for the space and community.  Each resident participated in a liturgy that acknowledged and beckoned God's presence in each space of life at the Friendship House.  We ask for your prayers now.  Please pray for us – for clear discernment and courageous enacting of God's wisdom.  We extend gratitude for y'all as constant reminders that God is for us and we eagerly ask for your nurturing presence and support as we embark on this life together.

This reflection originally appeared on the website for Reality Ministries. You can see more photos and read more on Friendship House Durham's Facebook Page as well. 

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