COLUMNIST: Matthew Perry


House of Peace

A Recipe for Renewal
By Matthew Perry

In 1727, Reverend Nathaniel Rogers built a house in Ipswich, Massachusetts, to which he welcomed victims of religious persecution from Europe, itinerant farmers, and other people in need of refuge. On October 27, 1990, Carrie Schuchardt, her husband John, and the hope-filled circle of initial friends and supporters christened this same house the House of Peace and began welcoming a new wave of guests, firstamong them two young Vietnamese boat refugees. More recently, on August 30, 2001, the House of Peace welcomed eight new guests—a mother, father, and six children—from Afghanistan. Twelve days later, the tragic story of their homeland took center stage asone of the worst tragedies in the history of their new home unfolded.
Today, Nathaniel Rogers’ historic house has never been a stronger center of refugeand healing, as Carrie and John and the House of Peace community continue to welcome orphans, refugees, and others in need of a new start from around the world. The two refugee boys who crossed their threshold early in the history of the House of Peace are now both practicing physicians. The Afghan family of eight has settled in the Ipswich community: the two parents with jobs, the three younger children attending the Cape Ann Waldorf School in nearby Beverly, and the three older children all enrolled in high school or community college. They have found the people of Ipswich to be accepting and supportive. They have not suffered any serious prejudice or indignities since September 11, 2001.

These stories represent the ideals of the House of Peace perfectly: continuity with the past, acceptance, tolerance, the physical housing and spiritual healing of people who have suffered from war and misfortune, fulfillment of human potential, community involvement, and, of course, peace. The House is known nationally and internationally for its successful realization of these ideals. The story of how it has remained so successful can serve as an example for any person or organization devoted to peace and understanding between peoples.

First, it takes a coherent vision. For the Schuchardts and the House of Peace, this vision has its roots in the philosophical principles of Anthroposophy and the healing community model of Camphill. Anthroposophy, the philosophical system originated by Rudolf Steiner, lends its ideas of a three-fold social order in which people pursue activities in the spiritual/cultural, social, and economic realms and come together as communities around these activities.

The goal of the House of Peace, as described by Carrie, is to “translate these principles into a living reality in the world.” In other words, when an individual comes to them from war-torn Bosnia, for example, that person will be provided with the physical resources they need to survive—food, clothing, shelter; assistance in acquiring a job, better education, health care, and language skills; and the emotional and psychological resources he or she needs to recover a sense of self, safety, and belonging. The House of Peace, as do all Anthroposophical endeavors, attends to the person as a whole—mind, body, and spirit.

The Camphill model is also central to the efficacy of the House of Peace. Camphill Communities exist internationally, and work to elevate the developmentally disabled who society has taught to focus on the dis- and not their abilities. The idea is that social renewal is only achievable by embracing what every individual has to offer and recognizing the innate need and desire we all have to give of ourselves, i.e. people in need of special care have the right also to give special care.

At the House of Peace, this guiding principle is made real in the persons of the hospitality crew who are so central to the welcoming and restoration of their guests from overseas. These individuals, often severely functionally limited, are brilliant in the field of making people feel at home and binding people together. They help people who are not used to being helped, they make people laugh who are not used to laughing, and they engage people who are not used to being themselves. We don’t often turn to the blind, the mentally retarded, or others who our culture deems “abnormal” when we need something special. The House of Peace does, and the curative community it has fostered is all the stronger for it.

The House of Peace applies its core principles in other arenas. It advocates for peace and justice on many fronts. Last winter, it organized a seven-week Walk for a New Spring across the state of Massachusetts, ending in a peace rally on the steps of the Capitol building in Boston on the first day of Spring. It has been regularly working with Families for Peaceful Tomorrow since September 11, seeking non-violent responses to the terrorist attacks. Carrie and John have participated in vigils, lectures, meetings, and advocacy walks nationally and internationally, as far away as Japan. The House has hosted a variety of gatherings in the restored historic barn on its grounds. It has hosted several individuals from around the country in its retreat cabin, a replica of the one Henry David Thoreau used while gathering experiences for Walden. They are always working for the humane treatment of prisoners, the fair treatment of INS detainees, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Their work never stops.

The House of Peace is indeed a busy place, primarily because its founders, staff, partner organizations, and community supporters treat no problem or person abstractly. Everything and everyone is tangible, and can be acted upon tangibly in turn. The community of Ipswich and the larger community of peace advocates understand this. Therefore, many of the donations that make the non-profit work of the House possible are tangible and targeted at particular needs. Contributions are often creative in nature—interest-free loans, in-kind gifts, volunteer labor. The House of Peace receives no corporate funds, it does not charge any of its guests for the services they receive, and no one who works there receives a salary. It remains free to pursue its goals as it defines them.

Perhaps the image that best summarizes the value and family nature of the House’s work unfolded this June 8, when Carrie and John held a high school graduation party for their daughter. This celebration doubled as a reunion of many of the guests who have been assisted by the House over its twelve years. Over eighty people came, representing twenty-two countries. They related many variations on this common theme: “After the House helped me recover my spirit and get back on my feet, I have done — and — and —.” Hearing these stories, you know that it is possible to fight back against war, hatred, self-interest, and ignorance. It is possible to touch individual human beings all around the world. You just need a house, a community that embraces you, ideas that inspire you, and a tireless spirit.

Recognizing the important contribution of the House of Peace, organizers of the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, have invited Carrie to speak out of her experience. More than 500 women leaders representing every region and faith are expected to gather October 7 at the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland for this initiative of the Millenium World Peace Summit.

Potential youth interns who have an interest in serving the ideals of the House of Peace are invited to visit for more details.

Matthew Perry, is a freelance writer on part-time staff at the Rudolf Steiner High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also owner of The Passages Project, offering interviewing, audio/visual recording and biographical writing services.


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