Members of religious sect want to open cafe, market in Hillsboro

As trucks rumbled and cars whined behind him, seemingly nonstop, Luke Wiseman, bent over a small stack of architectural drawings, was explaining his vision.

“Sixteen-thousand cars drive by here every day,” the 32-year-old said, his back to two-lane Route 9 in Hillsboro.

Fine. But how does he intend to get them to stop? Well, with coffee, of course.

Wiseman, who sports a short beard and ponytail, and his large group of partners want to open a coffeehouse in a gutted stone building on the western edge of this town of about 100 residents.

Called Common Ground Cafe, the rustic-designed shop, which could be open by next spring, will be an oasis of relaxation along a noisy thoroughfare, Wiseman hopes.

It will feature a spiral staircase and large stone hearth and will sell espresso, tea, smoothies, sandwiches and soups. In the back, near a babbling stream and rusted bridge, will be a patio. A perfect setting for live music performances, Wiseman predicts.

Surely, work to make this vision a reality will be hard and expensive, especially considering the dilapidated state of the building. However, once the cafe does open, money will be saved on labor costs. How? All the work there will be done by Wiseman and the others from the commune.

Wiseman is a member of the Twelve Tribes, a religious sect where members live together in small groups throughout the United States and in eight other countries, many in rural areas and small towns.

Twelve Tribes

Theologically, the Twelve Tribes movement is a cult of Christianity. It does not represent historical, orthodox Christianity

Sociologically, the group has cultic elements as well

The sect was founded in Tennessee in the early 1970s by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, a former high school guidance counselor. The sect, whose members are devoted to Jesus (who they call “Yahshua”), claims, according to the Twelve Tribes’ Web site, about 3,000 members, though exact numbers are not known.

In each community, where men have beards and ponytails, and women wear long, flowing dresses, work is shared, money and possessions are pooled, and children are home-schooled.

Spanking children is permitted, and attending college and voting are out of the question. Meanwhile, marriages are strictly monogamous. Wiseman, himself, is married with two children.

In Loudoun, just south of the Hillsboro town boundary, about two dozen adults and children, Wiseman said, live in a compound of several buildings on Ashbury Church Road, a short walk from Route 9. “It matched our ideals,” he said of Hillsboro. “It’s just perfect.”

Besides the cafe, the group in November bought 21 acres of farmland in town, where they are now growing tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, cantaloupes and other produce. Members want to build an organic food market near the corner of Route 9 and Hillsboro Road adjacent to their sprouting crops.

“We’ve been hoping people would do something along these lines for a long time,” said Roger Vance, mayor of Hillsboro, talking of the projects the Tribes community has in store. “I think we have had a very open relationship. And they seem to fit in very well.”

Mark Ware, president of the Hillsboro Community Association, said he has been impressed with the “work ethic” of the group’s members since they moved to town more than three years ago.

However, when they did arrive, he said there was some uneasiness among town residents, mostly because they knew so little about the group and its beliefs.

And now? “They keep that part of their lives their own personal business,” he said of the group’s religion. “It never comes up.”

Common Ground Cafe, when it does open, will be the only eatery in town, and will blend in with the town’s historic architecture, explained Wiseman, who moved to Hillsboro from Vermont in 2004.

He added that he hopes the business will spur additional development on the west side of town, especially on land directly behind the former gas station.

And while the cafe will be a respite for coffee lovers in this town short on such places, he promised it won’t be a venue for recruiting new members.

“We believe in keeping our businesses and our religion separate,” said Wiseman, who also owns a landscaping company. “We like our work to speak for us.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday June 20, 2007.
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