A Peculiar Sort of Family

Strangers At My Door by the Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove can easily be numbered among the foundational texts for those seeking to live with and build intentional Christian communities. Wilson-Hartgrove, a Baptist minister and peace activist, weaves together masterfully a collection of stories and reflections from his experiences living in Rutba House, an intentional Christian community in Durham, NC.

Readers will likely recognize Wilson-Hartgrove’s name in connection with the “new monasticism” movement made popular by evangelical and emerging church leaders, ministers, and activists–Shane Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove most notable among them. The movement grounds itself in the various monastic expressions in Christianity, but orients itself in different (although often perpendicular) directions. New monasticism seeks to draw wisdom from the 2,000+ year history of classical monasticism and translate it within the context of a contemporary world fraught with suffering, division, and injustice (which, one might note, is the precise context in which the foundational principles of classical monasticism were developed.) 

These translated principles have been compiled by Wilson-Hartgrove and others in a list of Twelve Marks of New Monasticism (found at various places on the internet–included here is Wikipedia’s summary of new monasticism.) One of the marks of new monasticism is “hospitality to the stranger.” Strangers At My Door is Wilson-Hartgrove’s brief witness (just over 200 pages) to the many unexpected faces of Jesus who have showed up at his doorstep throughout his years living in intentional Christian community. 

As a person who lives in intentional Christian community, this book is of extreme interest to me. When discussing issues as lofty as meeting Jesus face-to-face on your doorstep, it is very easy to get preachy and somber. Wilson-Hartgrove avoids this temptation. His stories are serious, but not somber and–most importantly–do not emphasize his piety. He tells his story with clarity and passion and leaves the door open–or rather, the porch light on–for those who might like to follow in this or similar paths to welcoming others in the name of Jesus. While living in an intentional Christian community (not a part of the new monasticism movement, although affiliated with a classical monastic community), my path resembles Wilson-Hartgrove’s more than most. That said, however, the opportunity exists for regular folk–living alone or with nuclear families–so open their own doors in various creative and safe ways to the stranger who bears Christ’s face. Wilson-Hartgrove describes his community as a “peculiar sort of family,” comprised of people of various skills, ideas, and abilities (79). He leaves ample room for all people–regardless of context–to be intentionally hospitable. 

In terms of mechanics, the design is very effective. The text is readable and printed well. As I mentioned, the book is short and reads very easily. I would recommend this for anybody interested in engaging in hospitality of any sort–whether that be living in a house of hospitality or even simply inviting somebody out for coffee. 

I have been provided a review copy of Strangers At My Door by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest-though-not-necessarily-favourable review. For more information on Blogging for Books, please visit http://www.bloggingforbooks.org/


3 thoughts on “A Peculiar Sort of Family

  1. Beautiful review! Thanks, Cody! I wish you would have been among the small community gathered for prayer, a meal and discussion with the author at St. Jane House this past August. Jonathan is a gracious fellow, a modern-day prophet for me. I believe you two are kindred souls.

    • Thanks, Melissa! You’re so kind. I very much enjoyed reading Jonathan’s book and would have loved to meet him in person. I’m very interested in the work that Jonathan and Shane have done on new monasticism, although I’ve only kept up from the periphery. I’d love to visit Rutba House and/or the Simple Way some time. Visitation field trip?! 🙂

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