New London's St. Francis House to celebrate 20 years
New London — It's a place that's not easy to define, even for its members.
St. Francis House, created as an Episcopal urban ministry at 30 Broad St., is celebrating 20 years of existence this month. Members past and present were expected to reminisce at a birthday party on Saturday at St. James Episcopal Church, where founding and former members gathered with former House residents.
Founded in 1999 by the late Rev. Emmett Jarrett and his wife, Anne Scheibner, in the tradition of the Catholic Worker movement as an “intentional Christian community,” St. Francis House is described by its members as a place to promote social justice, foster dialogue and offer hospitality to neighbors.
There are two things it’s not — a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, though members say it does have frequent visitors and does host meals.
“Part of it is to not nail ourselves down. We don’t have a written, specific mission. It’s kind of to provide hospitality for those on a mission of peace and justice,” said Len Raymond, one of five who call St. Francis House home. “A place that provides hospitality to activists and activism with a focus on prayer and peace and justice.”
“I describe it as a house of prayer and hospitality, but what I really appreciate is it is all about being good neighbors,” said Reona Dyess, a resident and director of the Drop-In Learning Center, an organization founded by Scheibner.
“I have seen St. Francis House take action and support people who are involved in movements to make a difference in the community,” Dyess said.
In the wake of the 2010 random-violence murder of Matthew Chew in downtown New London, Dyess said members of St. Francis house went to speak to church members to gather support for a peace walk. The money raised from the walk helped fund non-violence training for a group of local youths.
St. Francis House is also a place of prayer and meditation and an incubator of sorts for people or groups looking to make a change or support a mission, Scheibner said.
All sorts of people come in and out of the house, either for daily prayer, regular “Clarification of Thought,” gatherings or Bible studies.
Jarrett and Scheibner moved into the 30 Broad St. home in 2000 with their two kids and in 2002 bought the derelict next door building and transformed it into the Victory House. By 2006 Jarrett had helped to organize the New London Homeless Hospitality Center and become a popular figure in the antiwar movement.
In addition to the Homeless Hospitality Center, the roots of FRESH New London can be traced to St. Francis House. The group’s co-founders, Arthur Lerner and Laura Burfoot, spent time at the house, Lerner pitching in his time to rehab the Victory House. Burfoot went on with others to lead the Hearing Youth Voices, which has become a powerful voice for the youth activism focused on education.
Planning for the Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust also started at St. Francis House in the wake of the closing of the Crystal Avenue low-income high rise apartments, concern about what was going to happen to the low-income residents and the impact on the local affordable housing market.
Those passing the house on any given day can be expected to be greeted from someone on the porch. On many days that person might be Cal Robertson, a fixture in the downtown often holding anti-war signs.
“We moved in with the idea we would get to know our neighbors,” Scheibner said.
Saturday’s birthday celebration included gifts for the Paul Jakoboski FRESH Scholarship and the SE CT Community Land Trust. Jakoboski, the former head of the Gemma Moran United Way Labor Food Bank and St. Francis House resident, died in 2017. He was active in the early development of FRESH New London.
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