As a self-professed extrovert, second-year Master of Divinity student Paola Ferro knew she did not want to live alone on campus while studying at Wesley. The Birch Intentional Living Community, which opened in 2009 and is located in the top floor of Wesley’s downtown location in Washington, D.C., was a much more desirable option. In fact, it is one of the reasons Ferro originally chose to study at Wesley.
At Birch, up to 16 students live together in a dormitory, mutually committed to a covenant written together at the beginning of every academic year. The group covenant outlines the values the house will uphold. This year’s covenant includes commitments to hospitality to those inside and outside the community, encouragement to fellow residents, and being inclusive of all races and sexualities.
Ferro, who was born in Guatemala and grew up in Miami, has lived in the community since her first semester at Wesley in fall of 2016. The community was a major part of her transition into seminary. It also helped her adjust to life back in the United States as she moved to Washington, D.C., directly from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she served as a Global Mission Fellow with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
“When I came to seminary, I felt that the transition was going to be really challenging, so being able to do it with a community was a great thing,” Ferro said. “Coming to D.C., for the first time I felt like a minority and that was hard. Living with people who have either lived outside the U.S. or studied abroad made it easier. It was so good to go home to a group of people who support me.”
The intentional community also provides space for the different cultures of each resident to weave together as the group lives alongside one another, Ferro said.
“Living in an intentional community for years with people I had never met until they moved in really expanded my perspectives on relationships,” Ferro said. “Even if you don’t get along with everyone in the community, you’re still able to find a way to live together. The community becomes more intentional because I leave with the stories of people who shaped and molded me, even if I don’t agree with everything they say or do. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I had never lived with them.”
When conflict arises among those living in the intentional community, it is dealt with by adhering to the covenant which commits each resident to being open to criticism and communication. That makes the living arrangement a great learning experience, Ferro said.
“It’s interesting to see year to year how the group dynamics change, but you can still learn how to live and work together with other people who I may not have chosen to live with entirely on my own,” she said.
It does not hurt to live with a built-in study group either. Since all the residents attend Wesley full-time, many are enrolled in the same courses.
“The community expands my perspective theologically because it challenges me to learn things in more intentional ways because I’m living with these people,” Ferro said. “The theological conversations we have in the house provide opportunities to talk about those topics we didn’t have time to discuss in class. Because we’re going through many of the same things, we can support each other. We’re like a big family in a way.”