A movement fostering community and social justice in urban Philadelphia.
The Simple Way is a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in January 1998 by Shane Claiborne and other graduates from Eastern University. This intentional community started with the purpose of living out the teachings of Jesus by emulating his life and ministry, particularly focusing on simplicity, service, and social justice. The founders chose Kensington, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, as their base, aiming to make a tangible difference in an area with significant needs and no local churches at the time.
History and Development
Initially, The Simple Way members moved into a terraced house in Kensington, embarking on a journey of community living that emphasized sharing resources, fostering spiritual growth, and engaging in acts of kindness and service. They did not seek funding from traditional mission agencies, instead relying on grassroots support and the shared commitment of its members. The community has since evolved into a local nonprofit, undertaking various initiatives like garden planting, food security projects, and running a store. It has creatively navigated legal challenges, such as when a city law restricted food distribution on streets, by distributing the Eucharist instead, which is not considered food once blessed.
The Simple Way is part of the New Monasticism movement, which seeks to revive traditional Christian monastic life principles such as communal living, hospitality, and prayer in contemporary contexts. Over the years, it has gained support from individuals and groups, including singer-songwriter Dar Williams, who has been affiliated with the community since 1999 and has raised funds through benefit concerts.
Activities and Philosophy
The organization’s website outlines its current activities, which include food distribution, support services, neighborhood celebrations, and educational scholarships. These activities are part of its broader mission to cultivate a proud, thriving neighborhood. The Simple Way encourages volunteers and visitors to engage with their work, offering opportunities to learn more about their approach to community living and social activism.
Shane Claiborne, a key figure in The Simple Way, has played a significant role in its development and the broader conversation around Christian simplicity and social justice. He has authored several books, including “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical,” which advocates for a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity and active engagement with issues of social justice. Claiborne’s work extends beyond The Simple Way, including founding Red Letter Christians with Tony Campolo and engaging in various forms of activism and public speaking.
Impact and Reception
The Simple Way has made a significant impact on its local community and has inspired others across the country and globally to consider how faith can inform a commitment to living simply and serving others. Its approach to Christianity—focusing on the red letters of the Bible, which are said to be the words of Jesus—emphasizes love, compassion, and justice over material wealth or traditional measures of success.
The community has faced challenges, such as a devastating fire in 2007 that destroyed their community center and Claiborne’s home. Despite such setbacks, The Simple Way has continued its mission, adapting and expanding its reach. Its story is a testament to the resilience and dedication of those who believe that a simple way of life, centered on community and service, can bring about profound change.