Christian Community and Lifestyle
We live in the urgencies of the 21st century.
At Agape we seek to create and to preserve a morally coherent life in fidelity to our faith and to the calling of people of all faiths. While grounded in the practice of our Catholic Christianity, we experience an affinity and connectedness with sisters and brothers from other faith traditions, and those who follow no particular faith tradition, learning from them and seeking to live in harmony with them.
Radical Nonviolence & Witness
Agape’s co-founders live below taxable income to withdraw support of taxes for war. Resistance to violence is part of our lives when called to resist war, pollution of our planet, nuclear energy and weapons, and the death penalty.
Eco-theology & Organic Homesteading
Reverencing the Earth is the art and practice of living as devoted stewards of God’s Earth. We grow our own food, harvest and freeze our vegetables for nourishment throughout the year. In our attempts to discover a sustainable way of being on this earth, we humans must look to invest ourselves in the fullness of life by giving back to the earth and her creatures more than we take from them.
Faith & Daily Prayer
At Agape, the deep stillness of the morning dawn is broken by readings of the Hebrew Scripture and The New Testament. Lunchtime with the community begins with silent meditation. We pray daily together as a community, honoring a contemplative call for periods of silence and meditation. Poetry, music, interfaith readings and celebrations are key to such prayer.
At Agape, celebration is central to our community experience. We sing, play music, and spend time together after a hard day’s work. Music and song are central to our prayer and annual events.
Our prayer life emboldens us to offer hospitality and service to sisters and brothers, especially to the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, and victims of war, thereby resisting the evils of violence so prevalent in our culture.
Evangelical simplicity is a Beatitude, a core value which is reflected in our daily life, our actions, and our teachings. Community members who live at Agape immerse themselves in a hard yet wholesome simple life.
Join us in our Community Life
College students and groups join Agape for a week or a month to experience immersion in our community, to work, to organize, and to enjoy. Interns engage through learning and service and take on a wide range of responsibilities including assistance with office and organizational needs.
Personal & Group Retreats
Agape welcomes individuals and organizations for retreats for a week or less. For those interested in retreats we provide silence and walks to Quabbin Reservoir. We can accommodate up to 20 people and host numerous college and adult groups annually.
Call 413-967-9369 to Schedule
Any campus organizations, especially those focusing on green education and environmental issues, including reduced lifestyle, can request a program at Agape for a day, a weekend, or longer. Retreat dates are available throughout the year. Donations and meals are arranged with Agape staff according to numbers and length of time.
Agape hosts a variety of annual events open to the public. Events bring hundreds of like-minded people to join together for peace every year. Events include Saint Francis Day, Saint Brigid Day, our annual Stations of the Cross vigil and fast at the Massachusetts State House, annual Spirituality and the Arts evening, and the annual Advent Vigil.
Agape Community members take part in a range of nonviolent actions throughout the year. We invite the extended community and like-minded activist to join us. Signup for our mailing list to receive announcements of upcoming events.
Our lives and community are sustained by ongoing physical work on the homestead supported by volunteers. We hold an annual spring and fall workday at Agape where volunteers come to help us plant our gardens, chop wood, till our soil, landscape our grounds, and much more!
Witness means Community in Hebrew, AIDAH, and AIDE, meaning Witness from the Greek, Martyr, dying to one’s self, meekness; lowliness. Nonviolence is the willingness to die rather than use violence. The force behind witness for the Christian is belief in the Resurrection.
We are “public” Christians in that we are concerned about the well being of our society. In that light, our faith and experience leads us to clarify that: “Thou shalt not kill” does not admit to exceptions, that love is at the heart of God.
This belief compels us to reject the state and institutions of society when they promote the violence of war, abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia and the most lethal of weapons — unjust economic systems.
When our Christian Churches promote “Just Wars” or “Just Defense” or view injustice with indifference or become complicit in oppression, we call ourselves and the Christian Community to a change of heart. Our level of conversion comes in the form of active nonviolent resistance, public witness, fasting, and prayer vigils.
Agape has been committed for years to Interfaith Dialogue and Solidarity. Over the years, the community has participated in various Pilgrimages sponsored by our sister communities, The House of Peace and The Buddhist Peace Pagoda, including an Interfaith Pilgrimage to Massachusetts Prisons, and an act of Civil Disobedience, on the second day of the bombing of Iraq in March, 2002 at Westover Air Force Base.
Another act of Civil Disobedience during the initial days of Shock and Awe at a Natick, MA army weapons facility became known as The Peacechain 18, both witnesses involving year long trials and eventual rulings of dismissal.
Over the years, Agape has initiated or has participated in efforts to call the church back to Christ’s teachings on nonviolent love, including a national petition entitled The Catholic Call to Peacemaking, which accrued thousands of signatures nation-wide, calling for the American Catholic Bishops to abandon their support of the War on Terror and the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/ll. Witness included vigils in front of the Cathedral in Boston with members of various peace communities in Boston.
Solidarity with the Involuntarily Poor
We struggle to live our Christianity on the margins where we meet the involuntary poor, the rejected, the broken, and the children who have been abandoned. In sharing our lives with those in extremity, we come to know our own complicity in their suffering, experience our own woundedness, our common bond with those in need and better recognize the face of God.
For twelve years, Agape has fostered a relationship with Bethany Hill School, Framingham , MA, a residence for those who are in recovery, unable to find housing, suffering from Aids, and their families, some of the children pictured here at Agape. A tree was planted at Agape by the children as a reminder of our community solidarity.
Voluntary Poverty and Living Simply
The core community at Agape has decided to live in the mystery of poverty as Beatitude and as a “voluntary” choice. Such a choice is an economic one that begins to open us and our community to share some of the inconveniences of the “involuntary” poor.
Living Under Taxable Income
Agape co-founders are committed to resisting violence, wherever we encounter it in our institutional settings — political, legal, economic and social. Preparations for war are impossible without tax money. The United States military requires tax revenues to deploy troops or invade other countries, to build and deploy nuclear and other weapons in flagrant denial of the teachings of Jesus. Conscience informed by faith has led the co-founders to protecting life as Jesus would protect it by living below taxable income.
The Agape Community: A Brief Profile
Agape is a residential, lay Catholic Community dedicated to prayer, voluntary simplicity, and gospel-centered nonviolent witness in the world. Agape was Co-founded by Brayton and Suzanne Shanley in 1982 with Fr. Emmanuel McCarthy, Steve and Nancy James, In 1987, Suzanne and Brayton moved with their daughter Teresa to 32 acres of land in Hardwick’s Quabbin watershed to incorporate sustainability and ecology into their lifestyle of nonviolence.
Brayton and Suzanne, along with many interns, assisted hundreds of volunteers who selflessly contributed to the building of structures on the Agape homestead, including the main house and residence, Francis House, as well as Brigid House, a straw bale house with compost toilet and solar energy. Agape’s large organic garden feeds the community and guests throughout the year, while wood from Agape’s 34 acres in the Quabbin Reservoir watershed provides the community’s only source of heat, wood burning and wood cook stoves. Many pilgrims travel to Agape’s hermitage, behind the main house, for rest and prayer, joining in community prayer three times a day and simple, vegetarian fare. Brayton and Suzanne drive a car fueled by donated vegetable oil from a Restaurant 99.
Brayton Shanley earned his BA from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and an MA in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. He has taught college courses on the Philosophy of Nonviolence at Worcester State and as an adjunct professor at Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA and has been leading workshops, retreats and seminars on Prophecy and Peace, Gospel Nonviolence and Sustainability, simplicity and Resistance since the early 80′s. His recently published book, The Many Sides of Peace: Christian Nonviolence, the Contemplative Life, and Sustainable Living, Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock, 2013), is used nationally by professors, students, & religious orders.
Suzanne Belote Shanley completed her MA in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a post-Masters Degree (MPhil) in English at Simmons College in Boston MA, where she taught in the late 70’s for three years. Suzanne has taught college courses at Worcester State, Boston College, Anna Maria College in Worcester, as well as courses at the Paulist Center in Boston, workshops and seminars at colleges throughout New England and programs in LeMoyne University, University of Notre Dame, Jesuit School of Theology (Berkeley, CA),& St. Thomas University. She has studied the topic of women and war for over 35 years, bringing to life biographies of pacifists in the women’s movement past and present, while inspiring young people to claim their nonviolent heritage.
Brayton and Suzanne have been residents of the small, rural town of Harwick for the last 28 years. Together they have been practicing peace for over 30 years, by leading sustainable living retreats and nonviolent opposition against war, capital punishment, nuclear power and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Brayton has taught interfaith perspectives on
peace at Anna Maria College and Worcester State University.
This year, they will join with others in their community to accept the annual Paulist Center Isaac Hecker award, Boston, first awarded to Dorothy Day in the 70’s as together they celebrate a life of nonviolent community in its many phases as outlined in The Many Sides of Peace.
In the 1980’s Suzanne Belote Shanley and Brayton Shanley created programs on Christian Nonviolence which they taught in Boston and throughout New England, including year long programs for staff and students at Cathedral High School in Springfield; North Cambridge Catholic in Cambridge (Peer Mediation Program), MA; McAuley Nazareth Home for Boys in Leicester, MA and Bethany Hill School in Framingham, MA. Prison work has included programs at MCI Framingham for women, Hampden County Jail, and MCI Norfolk, emphasizing nonviolent conflict resolution. The Agape Community has hosted a yearly vigil against the Death Penalty at Boston’s Statehouse since 1983, and its members have been advocates for death row inmates and for the abolition of capital punishment. Agape is a seamless garment community, dedicated to life in all of its stages and opposed to all that threatens this life including war, abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia and the degradation of the planet and its resources.
Celebrating its 25th Anniversary with Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, other years of Agape’s St. Francis Day celebrations have included Daniel Berrigan SJ, Dave Dellinger, Sr. Mirriam Therese MacGillis, and Vincent Harding.
Brayton and Suzanne have led retreats, workshops, and seminars from middle and elementary school, to high school and college, on the topic of The Spirituality of Nonviolence, most recently at Worcester State and Anna Maria Colleges. Agape is sustained through financial, prayer and volunteer support of a broad spectrum of individuals who embrace its ministry which has included working with at-risk and inner city youth, as well as prison ministry and outreach to prisoners on Death Row, and civil disobedience in response to war.
Agape has hosted two college retreats a year, which have attracted hundreds of college students, as well as annual events including St. Brigid and St. Francis Days and an evening on Spirituality and the Arts. Agape’s Mission Council is comprised of 12 members including one woman religious, a Jesuit priest, and lay people from various faith traditions and backgrounds, who oversee and guide the community vision. Agape’s bi-annual journal, Servant Song, is a highly regarded literary publication which features articles on Contemplation and Action, Sustainability, and the many facets of nonviolence in relation to Scripture, Catholic Social teaching, ecumenism and interfaith spirituality.