Joe Birch gets rare look into alternative community led by moder - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Joe Birch gets rare look into alternative community led by modern-day monk

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(WMC-TV) - Have you ever wanted to just get away from it all?

People from all over the world are doing just that, even right here in the Mid-South.

Action News 5 got a rare look inside the alternative community, which is led by an even more alternative leader.

The community sits just five hours west of Memphis, deep in the Ozark Mountains.

Dirt roads far off the beaten path take you to Little Portion Hermitage, a modern day monastery that attracts people of all kinds.

A scientist, a former hot-shot lawyer, and even married couples reside in this small community.

They all take the lead from a former rock star, turned monk, who founded the Brothers and Sisters of Charity.

"It just means the community will reject me in 10 years," laughed John Michael Talbot, founder of Brothers and Sisters of Charity. "Most founders have not been treated kindly to be frank."

John Michael Talbot embraces the term techno monk. He uses Facebook and iPads to shepherd the 28 people who live there.

When he is not speaking, his garb speaks for him.

Everyone there is united in their vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty.

No one makes enough money to pay federal taxes.

In fact, they have a tax exemption.

They farm the land, eat in silence, and spend hours in prayer.

"We had built a large home on about 40 acres 5 years before we came here. We now live in a house that could have fit in our living room," said follower Mark Shepler.

Mark Shepler and his wife gave up a successful law career to join this religious order, blessed by the Catholic Church.

"He was calling my wife and I into a more intimate relationship with Him and that's hard to do when you're a trial lawyer," said Shepler.

The Sheplers silently pray, work, and study alongside traditional Catholic monks and nuns.

"I was instantly attracted largely because of the integration of having celibates and singles and families living together in a monastery," said Sister Carolyn Enders.

At least 350 families across the United States and four other countries are part of Talbot's flock.

He spends about 10 months a year on the road, leading missions like one he held last month in Hernando, Mississippi.

The money generated from his book and CD sales goes back to the monastery, as well as proceeds from the pork and vegetables farmed by the faithful.

"Christian monasticism is about nothing more and nothing less than trying to follow Jesus in a radical but not fanatical way," said Talbot.

Fanaticism is, however, a common criticism.

"Oh we hear that all the time, ‘Oh, you going to the compound to drink the Kool-Aid?' All the time," said follower Colleen Billing.

Colleen and Andrew Billing live in Chicago with their five children.

The entire family comes to Little Portion once a year, but they apply the tenants taught here every day back home.

"And so we live in the world but try not to live of the world, and it's a beautiful thing to do in our culture today," explained Andrew Billing.

A culture so loud...silence is sought...on a mountaintop...in Arkansas.

"Take a little time every day and be still, and that way you're able to go out into the activity of the world and maintain your love, your joy and your peace," said Talbot.

Action News 5's Joe Birch visited John Michael Talbot's monastery during a tri-annual event known as The Gathering.

He also spoke with Talbot in North Mississippi last month.

You can hear more of his spiritual message Sunday night on Action News 5 after the game.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.

SLIDESHOW

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View photos Joe Birch took during his time at The Gathering

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