Bryan MitchellAbout a year ago, in the midst of a committee meeting for ordination, my district superintendent at the time, Rev. Dr. John Boggs, put together that I had experience working at an intentional Christian community.

“Oh, you worked at the Vista House with college students?” he asked. We huddled after the meeting to discuss this experience and possibilities for our district. Although I previously had a vision of bringing a similar ministry to Asheville, no one else had confirmed this vision until now. We agreed that we felt the Holy Spirit was moving for us to explore further.

It is worth understanding that at the time of this meeting I was 35 years old and had struggled to discover my own calling for at least ten years. Up to this time, I worked in a number of different industries carrying out a variety of roles. And then I was called to seminary at Candler. It seemed to be the next step in my journey. But to what end?

The experiences and classes at Candler provided the spiritual direction I needed to discover my inner voice. Con Ed I gave me continued insight and confirmation in my skills as both a pastor and an administrator. Working at my home church, Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, North Carolina, for Con Ed II led to even more confirmation and direction. The capstone to this seminary experience has been the internship with John Boggs and the Western North Carolina Conference over the past semester, which was born from the meeting one year ago, but also the culmination of ten years of searching.

John Boggs relayed to me that he had personal and ministerial interest in examining intentional Christian communities in western North Carolina. Since I have the same interest and a semester to study the possibility, this aligned perfectly. We set out to learn about intentional Christian communities (ICC) in a modern context, what it would take to create and establish such a ministry, and how to go about funding it. The resulting document from this internship sets not only my direction personally but also a vision for how the local church in the area could move forward. The knowledge and experience I have gained supersedes this document. This semester gave me a four-month jump-start on my eventual vocational role. I know what I need to do now to fulfill my calling and the vision of the local church.

I began by reading the most pertinent books on Christian community and the missional movement that I could find. The list includes Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, New Monasticism by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Missional, Monastic, Mainline by Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath and Rev. Dr. Larry Duggins, and Community and Growth by Jean Vanier. If the authors were still alive I was able to meet with them personally multiple times, including Larry Duggins, Elaine Heath, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. So I went beyond the text and reflected firsthand with the authors on community and the church.

Research began in earnest in March as I visited most and interviewed leaders from six intentional Christian communities that represent a spectrum of different models. Contact with these communities’ leaders and authors is largely due to working on a team with John Boggs and Rev. Luke Lingle, a leader with the Missional Wisdom Foundation. They were able to connect me with everyone I needed to be connected with, invited me to join them in meetings that I would not have had access to otherwise, and were incredibly supportive the entire way. When I was in meetings among ICC, conference, and district leaders, everyone viewed me as a colleague in helping to create the business plan for this new local ministry. This internship allowed me to become a part of this team. Bringing these people together might not have happened otherwise. I cannot take full credit for this happening, but it was one result of my project this semester.

And so I found myself completing this visionary plan for intentional Christian communities in Asheville in late April, wondering how I had gotten so far down this path. I could not imagine myself being involved in any other project after graduation. My calling is now clear and I also have a plan in place that will allow the local church to be a part of the work God is already doing here in Asheville. It took the three full years of seminary at Candler, but I can move forward with confidence that the Spirit inside of me has led me to the next part of my journey. This internship really was the capstone to my theological education.