*cino Work, Organization, Three Rivers

June 2013 *cino board report

After meeting online for several months in a row, the *cino board enjoyed a face-to-face meeting in Three Rivers on June 26.  We gathered at the Huss Project for conversation that primarily centered on future strategy and funding resources.  Then, we headed to the rectory where the *cino intentional community lives and Gail Heffner, a board member with extensive non-profit experience, led a workshop on writing fundraising letters with our new summer interns and several other leaders within the organization.  Finally, as is our habit, we shared food!  A variety of summertime delights filled our table at the rectory as we connected with old friends and new, continuing to build the kinds of relationships that sustain us in our ongoing work.  We are grateful for all of the partners who join us in this work and would appreciate your prayers as we seek to be faithful stewards of our mission to model and encourage creative communities rooted in the love of Christ. Current *cino board members are Jeff Bouman, Grant Elgersma, Gail Heffner, Tim Raakman and Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma.

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Organization, People, Three Rivers

Introducing our 2013 summer interns!

(Left to right: Chelsea Tanis, Ginna Quesada, Ainsley Rynders, Jonathan Huang)

This past weekend, we officially welcomed our 2013 summer interns to Three Rivers.  This will be the fourth summer that we’ve had a group of interns join our year-round resident community to help support *cino’s work during our busy season.  That said, we welcome these new friends not just to share in the work load, but to offer a fresh perspective, join in hospitality and engage in mutual learning.

Our series of orientation activities began on Friday and continued through the weekend, including a bike tour and overview of Three Rivers, a welcome dinner and conversations around *cino’s history and core values.  Last night, the group gathered for a house meeting with the residents of the rectory to begin exploring the logistical details of living in intentional community.  We’re also in the process of assigning specific tasks for the summer, which is always a welcome challenge — we want to honor each person’s gifts, while also pitching in as a community to share in the nitty-gritty tasks.

This summer, we’ll be hosting weekly Family Fun Nights, lunches four days a week, a community garden, three storytelling nights, two Underground Supper Clubs and one big annual Future Festival — all on top of our usual publishing and community development work!  It will be a busy few months, but we look forward to working hard side by side, and then playing hard side by side to rejuvenate ourselves and weave a resilient, joyful community.

Thank you, Chelsea, Ainsley, Jonathan and Ginna, for giving yourself so generously to this place for a season!

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Organization, People, Publishing

*cino 2012: A year in review

Left to right: Rob, Chad, Deborah, Liesje, Kirstin, Jordan, Stephanie, David and Emily

Happy Advent!  Even as we set aside time for expectation for the future, we thought we’d take the opportunity to look back at what the past year has been like for the folks connected with *culture is not optional.  There are about a dozen of us now in Three Rivers who participate in various aspects of community life on the ground here and there continues to be an international community of *cino followers who regularly participate through reading, encouraging, donating and visiting.  We are so grateful to experience God’s abundance in the form of all of these wonderful people!

With love and hope,
The *cino community


Winter is a quieter time for the *cino community as we honor the rhythms of creation and spend more time reading and reflecting.  That said, Rob & Kirstin taught on popular culture, the empire and the Kingdom of God at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is always sort of a whirlwind!


Rob & Kirstin attended the annual Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh.  Several of our folks also helped support the annual Chocolate Affair, which is a fair trade bake-off (and, this year, brew-off) that happens at World Fare.


During two different weeks, we hosted service-learning spring break groups from Calvin College and Geneva College on themes of place, contemplation, activism and storytelling.  We also got a ton of demolition and clean-up work done at the Huss Project.  During the Calvin trip, we hosted David Bazan for a house show and packed out the VG-R living room.  On the last weekend of the month, we invited a group of Calvin students to come for a day retreat on the relationship between hope and cynicism (and also experienced the annual AYCE pancake breakfast at the Volinia Outcomes School maple project, which gives us hope for the world, indeed). At the end of the month, we helped organize the third annual Rivers of Justice film festival, which featured the films Last Train Home and Miss Representation.


Several of us began our Easter celebration at the St. Gregory’s Abbey Easter vigil and then Emily hosted quite a gang, including her parents who were visiting from Maryland, for Easter dinner at the rectory.  Later in the month, we displayed for *cino in the exhibit hall at the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, connecting with new friends and old and introducing the wonderful Eat Well study guide, created by Deborah!


We held our annual face-to-face *cino board meeting in Three Rivers and also had a table and painting project at the Spring Arts Festival at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.


We began June by hosting a storytelling night welcoming Jay, Kyle, Hannah, Margaret and Christopher as our interns for the summer!  Their very first official task was to participate in the local Stand for Children Day event and we were all blown away by the creativity and attention local kids showed with our painting project.  The *cino gang also joined Trinity Episcopal Church, which hosts our resident community in their rectory, for their annual spring clean-up and potluck.  With everyone’s help, and especially Hannah and Christopher, we launched Family Fun Night, a weekly gathering at the Huss Project featuring snacks, games, crafts and conversation.


In July, we hosted the third annual Future Festival at the Huss Project!  Visitors from near and far enjoyed food, crafts, games, a farmer’s market, a book sale, a community garage sale, art vendors.  Future Fest was also the launch date for a gallery at the Huss Project featuring a series of art installations, including an assembly of the painting projects done earlier in the year by Calvin College students and local kids.


We regretfully cancelled the Practicing Resurrection conference in August due to low numbers and late promotion, but we had a great weekend with visiting friends anyway, with plenty of shared meals and music. We also hosted a group of RA’s from Calvin College for service-learning, exploring how several of *cino’s core values play out in our work in Three Rivers and their work as dorm leaders.  August was also the big wedding month for Chad and Stephanie, and we all enjoyed pitching in by baking pies, assembling terrariums, playing music and taking care of the many fun tasks required by such a meaningful outdoor celebration.


If you look back at our staff meeting notes, you’ll notice that in February, an item appeared on our calendar: “September vacation?  Yes, please!”  Well, we honored the need to rest after a busy summer by taking a break from *cino activity and several of us headed out of town for extended periods of time, while others stuck around and enjoyed the late summer in Three Rivers.  *cino folk also pitched in to help coordinate a big off site sale for World Fare while Rob and Kirstin enjoyed three weeks in Europe. We also celebrated ten years of publishing catapult magazine this fall!


October was mostly spent catching up and regathering after weeks away, including reflecting on the many experiences from our travels that made us see our work in Three Rivers in a new light.


Our rest must have worked its magic, because November was an explosion of activity!  Jordan moved in and became the newest resident of the rectory in the middle of it all.  We’d been talking for over a year about launching a fundraising campaign and the time seemed right to pull together and do the background work that needed to be done in order to begin the campaign.  We wrote web site text, designed logos and prints, brainstormed ideas for special events, collected poems and got organized for the …


Brick Campaign!  December has been a delightful month of giving and receiving as support has begun flowing in for the Huss Project, as well as for the work of *cino that goes beyond the bricks and mortar at 8th and Broadway in Three Rivers.  Throughout this full year, we’ve also continued to publish issues of catapult and keep the conversation going near and far about what it looks like to be a people of justice, love, peace, simplicity, joy, hospitality and generosity in our world today.  May you experience all of those things and more as we re-tell the story of humble beginnings in Bethlehem over two millennia ago!

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Organization, People

The 2012 *cino intern program theme song

It seems that every summer since we started our intern program in Three Rivers a song emerges that captures the spirit of our time together as a group — musically, lyrically or both. In 2010, the song was “Blood” by The Middle East; its uplifting, group-singing chorus was an anthem for us to sing/yell along to during long hours preparing for events.
This summer, a slightly different song has emerged: “Garden of Your Mind,” the PBS Digital Studios remix of Mister Rogers. Among other excellent questions, this piece asks: have you ever grown anything in the garden of your mind? Well … have you?

“Garden of Your Mind” is exactly the kind of spirit we’re hoping to foster with the community development work we’re trying to do in Three Rivers. And Mister Rogers is a perfect role model to look to for inspiration.

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Organization, People

Home, sweet home: 2012 *cino summer interns get started

2012 interns
Last Friday, June 1, marked the beginning of the *cino summer internship program here in Three Rivers. This year, five interns (including myself) signed up to live in community alongside existing members of *cino, with the intent of helping the organization live into a kingdom vision for this small town in southern Michigan. Our first weekend here consisted of an array of happenings, which served as a great introduction to the area and gave us plenty to do, too.
After move-in Friday afternoon, we loaded up and drove to the middle school for Stand for Children Day, our first “official” *cino event. Stand for Children is a celebration of the local youth that includes food, games, and a variety of activities. At our booth, we shared information about *cino with members of the community and helped children paint wooden squares for a collaborative art project (to be unveiled at Future Festival on July 21). The kids seemed to really enjoy using their imaginations, and I know we had a great time assisting, watching, and listening to them throughout that process.
Next was our first weekly community dinner at the Trinity Episcopal Church rectory (where we live together). If there is one thing I have already grown to love about this community, it is the food that we share. With a few interns (myself included) working for a couple of generous local farmers, our supply of fresh produce seems infinite. Many of the interns are quite skilled in the kitchen, as well. Needless to say, all of this makes for wonderful meals, for which I am very grateful.
The evening was capped off by a showing of The Big Lebowski at the recently renovated Riviera Theatre. Some of us left the theatre shocked, while others left even more convinced that the Rectory is in need of a new rug (something that would really tie the room together). Nevertheless, we all left anxious for the morning to arrive.
Saturday began with a biking tour of Three Rivers. Our first stop was Hescott’s Donuts where Rob and Kirstin treated us all to some delicious pastries (I got a maple frosted cinnamon roll and it was fantastic). Other stops and sights included the Three Rivers Public Library, Hidden Marsh Sanctuary, and finally — our destination — Huss School. When we arrived, Rob gave us a tour of the building while Emily prepared the space for our picnic and discussion on the back lawn. Once again, the food was delicious, and the conversation that followed was a great time of sharing and learning about each other. Saturday continued, and ended, with some much appreciated “free time.” The house spent the evening chatting, reading, post-meal lingering, and Bananagramming. In my opinion, the evening marked one of the first truly memorable experiences of the summer. I’m hopeful that many more evenings will be and feel as warm as that one did.
Sunday morning the entire *cino crew met at Trinity. After the service, we helped the congregation with some yard work and chores around the building. Emily and I had a good conversation while we stubbornly trimmed the bushes in the backyard by hand (no electricity for us, thank you). When we had finished working, Father David invited us to eat with some members of the church, which is exactly what we did. Gathered around a table, we got to know a few folks from the church-a kind bunch of people who do a lot for *cino and provide us with a place to stay. The rest of Sunday was (for the most part) filled with a healthy bit of nothingness, as we put to rest our first weekend spent together-a collection of days that I will not forget.
Of course, this is not all that happened. Throughout the weekend we relaxed on the porch, drank coffee, and told stories. Margaret considered leading an “ice-breaker” game before we all shot it down. Jay was introduced to Craig Thompson. Hannah made some cookies. And everyone listened patiently to my absurd ramblings (about Magic, mini-horses, and the dentist). The people with whom I will be living for the next three months are an inspiring collective.
Perhaps it is the flickering optimism inside of me; or the naivety that comes with youth; or, perhaps — dare I say it — it is the truth. Regardless, the more time I spend in Three Rivers, the more I believe that something truly amazing is happening in this place; that it is beautiful. That discovered in the flavor of every bite and beneath all the torn up carpet and hidden in the silence after the thundering roar of the Rectory toilet, there is a gentle whisper of hope.

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Organization, People, Three Rivers

Beginning the conversation

Welcome to the *cino Talks blog! I’m Stephanie, one of several residents of the *cino community who live and work in Three Rivers, Michigan.

It feels quite remarkable to remember that just over a year ago, a group of college friends relocated from Grand Rapids to this rural small town in southwest Michigan and into the generously shared space of Trinity Episcopal Church’s rectory. Although many friends from this initial gathering have since embarked upon other endeavors, ongoing conversations have encouraged other college students and postgraduates to spend some time here in Three Rivers as well. I often recall the particular conversation that kindled this decision to join friends here in Three Rivers; a memory that includes the question, “What if a group of friends decided to move to Three Rivers this summer?”

It was springtime, and a pleasant enough day to perch piles of books on a courtyard table to peruse the themes of hospitality, imaginative living, and a faithful commitment to place. Yes, it was none other than Rob and Kirstin, leafing through pages and planning their first spring break trip — a foray into “art, agriculture, and development in rural communities.” Now, when you bump into such delightful friends and catch sight of the well-worn texts written by Cornel West, Wendell Berry, Brian Walsh, Kathleen Norris and the like, all collected together into an epitome of all that your college courses could explore, you get a little curious. And maybe a bit excited.

Rob and Kirstin went on to describe the spring break trip as both ethnographic and participatory, where students would traverse the rural small-town landscape of Three Rivers and visit local organic farms, learn from community members including artists, activists, historians, writers, and business owners, prepare shared meals with locally-sourced food, do service work at *cino’s Huss School building, and live and learn at the Hermitage, a serene Mennonite retreat center located in the hills west of town. This trip would encourage students to envision a community that is informed by a Christian “rule of life,” but also one that is learning-based, service-oriented, imaginative, and committed to the local culture and identity of Three Rivers and the other places we call home. As a student who was preparing to finish college with various opportunities pulling me in several directions, I was quite intrigued by this alternative vision for community. It was this very conversation, and many to come, that seemed to incite a small and ongoing migration of friends to Three Rivers.

Now why am I focusing so fixedly on such a memory? This memory reflection has recently served to unearth a period of questioning, the most pressing of which is the question of why I still believe in the work and identity of *culture is not optional. When I consider all that this past year has encompassed, I can undoubtedly say that it has indeed been a period of practicing hospitality, of striving to commit to this place, and of allowing our imaginations to shape the work that we do together. Sure, I cannot altogether affirm that our presence here has been characterized by an unceasing creative momentum and a clearly defined vision, nor did I ever expect for it to be so. But those initial conversations about how we are to live whole lives in this community still persist, allowing space to ask questions and work through the wobbles and gaps in my own understanding of *cino’s presence in Three Rivers and beyond.

As Kirstin introduced in the opening blog post for the *cino Talks, *culture is not optional, as an organization and gathering of friends, is transitioning into a period when we give greater attention to the mission and vision of this organization. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve most likely participated in some small or large part in *culture is not optional, whether it be living and working in Three Rivers, reading and writing for <a href=”http://www.catapultmagazine.com”><em>catapult magazine</em></a>, visiting <a href=”https://www.cultureisnotoptional.com/space”>Huss School</a>, or all the many other ways you’ve chosen to support this community. The *cino Talks is a dialogue where we hope to include your thoughts and observations regarding *culture is not optional’s organizational identity.

So, in a roundabout way, we’re asking if you can join us in reflecting on two questions for this initial phase:

  • Why is *culture is not optional important to you?
  • What limits your support of *culture is not optional?

These questions are broad, but your thoughtful and honest reflection is very valuable for *cino as we seek to move forward into a clearer identity and vision in the upcoming months. Answers can be <a href=”http://www.catapultmagazine.com/contact”>submitted here </a> or via the comment section below.

So, again welcome to the *cino Talks blog. We hope that it can become a space where you can also reflect on the ways that *culture is not optional has become important to you and participate in the ongoing conversations about faith, community, culture, place and so much more.

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Building, Fundraising, Online, Organization

Report from the Culture Make Sale

An enormous “Thank you!” to all who participated in the Culture Make Sale, whether by contributing goods and offering services, purchasing others’ donations, or simply perusing the website and sharing in the event.
*culture is not optional’s network stretches across the globe, and thanks to the success of the Culture Make Sale, that web of connections is growing! Over the past two months, friends of *cino new and old, from all over, have given and received gifts of time, energy, and resources, to benefit the renovation and development of the former Huss School building into a community center in Three Rivers, Michigan. Handmade ceramics, customized love letters and website design, brilliant books and poetry, yard work, artwork, apple pies, and so much more – these are little bits of human culture that enrich our lives, and all the more so when they are shared.
Thanks to all for helping raise over $1500 for the Imagining Space at Huss School! Your continued support ensures that Huss School is on its way to becoming a place of peace, hope, and justice.
Additionally, the sale will continue soon in Three Rivers: World Fare, a fair trade store downtown, has partnered with *cino as an outlet to sell goods that give life to projects and endeavors in the local community. Be sure to stop by 37 N. Main St. in the near future and check out the many wonderful items still on sale!

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Event, Fundraising, Organization, People

Future Festival 2011 + Three Rivers camping

Join us on July 30 for the Second Annual Huss Future Festival! This year’s event will include live music, food from the Triple Ripple Community Garden and the Three Rivers Area Faith Community, an art and art supply sale sponsored by the Three Rivers Artist Guild, a used clothing sale … and more! We invite you to drop by to get a glimpse of the vision for the Imagining Space at Huss School.
On July 28-30, we’re also partnering with Maple Tree Meadows to host a ^camping is not optional event in Three Rivers. This beautiful farm is only ten minutes from Huss School, making it an ideal place to stay if you’re coming into town for the Future Festival. Our camping events are very informal, but provide plenty of opportunities for sharing good food, stories, farm chores, songs and more. If you’d like, you could also volunteer for the Festival while you’re here; just send us a note to let us know you’re interested. We have limited space available, so register early!

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Event, Organization, People

Storytelling Night and Summer Intern Reception

*cino’s staff is doubling in size as a whole new group of summer interns find their way to Three Rivers this month. In celebration, we’re throwing a welcoming party on June 12, at 7:00 pm. This will not only be a wonderful chance for local supporters and friends to meet the new interns, but it will also be the first night of our summer storytelling series. During the first part of the evening, you are encouraged to come enjoy good company and good eats. Then around 8:00, we will gather to share stories. The theme for the night will be stories about identity; this could be an amusing anecdote from grade school when you realized you were just a little bit different than everyone else in your class, the story of how you choose your career, the weight and joys of carrying your family name, your experience as a privileged or marginalized person–any story of the humor or struggles of defining ourselves. If you would like to tell a story, we ask that it be 3-7 minutes in length; however, if you would just like to come and listen, you are more than welcome to do that as well. The event will take place at the Trinity Episcopal Church Rectory (317 N. Main St., Three Rivers, MI). We look forward to seeing you there!

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Building, Fundraising, Organization

You can help *cino win $50,000!

*culture is not optional has applied for a $50,000 grant through the Pepsi Refresh Project. We’ll be using the money to renovate one room in Huss School, the 27,000 square foot building we purchased for our Imagining Space project. To receive the grant, though, we need to solicit votes from our supporters; the 10 projects with the most votes in each grant amount will win!
Voting for our project starts Wednesday and you can vote on the Refresh Everything site, via text message or through a Facebook application. You can vote once a day and we’ll need you to vote every day in December if we stand a chance of winning. We will post the links and numbers to vote as soon as possible.
If you’d like to receive a daily e-mail reminder, sign up for our daily asterisk e-mail list. We send out a provocative quote every day and, during the month of December, we’ll be including a reason to vote for *cino’s project.
Thanks! And more soon …

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