JUSTembrace is a community in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago where strangers become family. Each week our small family of core neighbors meets in a former drug house to co-create (and co-consume) an atmosphere of real welcome and hospitality. In our home power structures are deconstructed through celebration and good food shared around a table.
Thankfully though, we don’t have to keep that restorative spirit to ourselves. An extended family of committed partners all over the world sustain our operations through prayer, encouragement, finances, and stories of their own transformed relationships. In turn, this community inspires those partners to live their own lives of restorative inclusivity, generosity, and hospitality.
Why here? Why now? Why us, and why, of all things, events, and food?
God put on flesh and moved into the human neighborhood. Through Christ, the triune God inaugurated a restorative Kingdom here. By bringing people of privilege and people on the margins to a shared table, we participate in that kingdom NOW. God is here, among us and through us, making all things new. Through life together, we encounter our vulnerabilities and our glory. So for us the real question is why would we want to be anywhere else, doing anything other than this?
Early on in our story, we had to face the reality that benevolent outreach efforts tend to backfire and often achieve the opposite of the intended outcome. We realized that well-intended charitable gestures meant to “serve the poor” (think ladling soup, donating old clothing, etc.) often reinforce hierarchical relationships. We wanted our innate power and position to be challenged and upended. That would require people who could choose to come or go to move in and stay.
So we did.
In 2011, our founders began occupying what had been known locally as one of the most… well… “productive” crack houses around. In the early days, before the house, they would bake cookies and walk around our streets handing them out, making friends, hearing and telling stories, not because they were obligated, but because it was their neighborly joy. They ate at soup kitchens with our neighbors instead of serving them out of their excess. In the process, they discovered they were not the ones only bringing good news – the Kingdom of God was, indeed among them, right here in shared life with the poor and vulnerable.
Gradually a longing grew for a place where people could be enjoyed and appreciated for simply being who we are, and in return, could enjoy and appreciate each other in our shared humanity. Out of that longing, JUSTembrace was born, and this house became our home.
Over the years we’ve called JUSTembrace a number of things:
- A hospitality house
- A ministry
- “Party Central”
- A Christian congregation
- A training center
- A family
- A home for those without “home”
We are all of those things, but even more simply, we are a community of messy people doing ordinary community things in a world full of isolation, greed, and selfishness. And not because of us, but in spite of us, it works.
The more we live together, the more we actually live together.
Are there still hard days? Oh, yes. Disease, conflict, death, systemic injustice, and even our diversity threaten the spirit of our group ceaselessly. But together we are learning how to be fully human through our shared suffering and celebration. And we’re convinced we’re onto something.
That brings us to the other portion of “what we do.” We teach our partners how (and why) to live lifestyles of restorative hospitality, inclusivity, and generosity, wherever they are geographically – and relationally.
One of the inevitable benefits of this model is a visible ripple effect. The fruits of self-sacrificial inclusion, generosity and hospitality are borne in and through the lives of our neighbors, partners, and visitors.
And that includes you.
Whether you arrived from a blog post, email link, brochure, news story, book or personal referral, we welcome you to our house and community. Now that you know what we do, it’s time to take off your shoes, relax, and enjoy the most unexpected stories, lessons learned, and hopes we have for the future of both our relationships and yours – wherever you are today.
Go ahead and explore. Don’t leave without saying hello. Tell us how you heard of JUSTembrace and what you hope to see happen next.