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No Religion? At These Faith-Based Retirement Communities, No Problem.

BusinessNo Religion? At These Faith-Based Retirement Communities, No Problem.


Faith-based communities “are doing a bit of a dance,” said Ms. Tweeten, who has been advising older people for 17 years. Her father chose to move into a Lutheran-based community in Madison, Wis., in the early 2000s; today, a similar community might call itself Lutheran-inspired. “They don’t want to limit the population that moves in, so they have to walk this line,” she said, adding that “to sustain growth, they’re focusing not so much on religion as philosophy” — like pacifism or progressivism.

That is evident at Enso Village, a new community in Healdsburg, Calif., that several of Ms. Tweeten’s clients toured recently. The community, which will hold a ribbon-cutting in June, is a collaboration between Kendal, an East Coast retirement community operator founded by Quakers, and San Francisco Zen Center, an organization of Zen practice and retreat centers that has public programs and provides housing to some practitioners.

Susan O’Connell, 76, started dreaming up Enso in 2006, when she was a resident at the Zen Center. She lives at Enso now. “I didn’t want to age in the ways that I saw were available, so I tried to create something,” Ms. O’Connell said. “And I found out that a lot of people had my same ideas.”

The Zen Center formed a partnership with Kendal after the two organizations assessed where Quaker and Zen values merge. “Quakers sit in silence and, as they say, wait for the still voice within to arise,” Ms. O’Connell explained. “Of course, in Zen, we meditate.”

Openness and ethical conduct are shared values, too, she added. But like other faith-based communities, Enso is open to everyone. Quaker, Jewish and agnostic residents have welcomed Sufis and Christians to the community, which has an on-site garden and teaching kitchen, a meditation hall and organized volunteer outings. Regardless of religion, “we’re all seekers,” Ms. O’Connell said.



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