Letter from the Lenker
May 16, 2018
After a two-year process of exploration and deliberation, a decision has been reached to relocate the North American Seminary. The Seminary Future Group of Julia Polter, Jonah Evans and Patrick Kennedy submitted their proposal to the leadership of our worldwide movement in March. In their meetings at the end of April, the Circle of Seven, which holds the responsibility for priest training, accepted the proposal and made the decision to move the seminary from Spring Valley to Toronto after the spring semester 2019.
This process has been particularly difficult because of the many attributes Spring Valley offers for our training process: a rich anthroposophical culture in teachers and fellow students, great resources for spaces and housing in close proximity, and the very real human connections and roots that have grown over these seven years at this location.
Our central concern for our training in the coming years, now that Bastiaan Baan is returning to the Netherlands at the end of 2018, is to have a strong leadership in directors, and we see that in Patrick Kennedy and Jonah Evans, and the move to Toronto will make that constellation possible. We also took into consideration the positive financial benefits this move would have, as well as the persistent issue of student visas, which is becoming ever more prohibitive in the goal of an international English-speaking seminary. In the course of this year we will also be exploring forms and places of a continued seminary presence in the USA, for possible open courses or an intensive summer program.
The seminary move will mean that the Kennedy family will be moving to Toronto in the summer of 2019. But already in the course of this summer, Patrick will be taking over the reins of the seminary leadership and stepping back from congregational responsibilities in Spring Valley. Bastiaan will continue in a supporting role through November, with the possibility of an extended visit in early 2019.
These changes will mean that the Spring Valley congregation will have an interim time with no assigned priest, three priests continuing to serve the sacramental needs of the community, and a strong leadership core in a newly formed Leadership Circle and Gail Ritscher continuing to serve as ministries coordinator. I hope to be able to make an announcement about a future priest for the Spring Valley congregation in the coming year.
In Toronto, Jonah will still be the priest primarily responsible for the congregation, but also serving as seminary director in a supportive role, while Patrick will be there primarily as seminary director and supporting in the community when he is able.
Although this news has been shared in a somewhat dry and factual fashion, the consequences have a far reaching and deeply emotional reality for many souls, and I do hope you can appreciate the care and thought that have gone into this decision and help to carry it with positive thoughts and prayers. It has the good will and support of the priest circle in North America as well as the future seminary directors.
North American Coordinator
“Hope Is a Memory of the Future”
Lory Widmer Hess
The theme of this April’s Open Course, “Developing Apocalyptic Vision,” clearly struck a chord. Around sixty participants from all over the country and the world gathered to learn about and from the Apocalypse of St. John, an ancient document that speaks urgently to the needs of our time. Powerful, obscure, and sometimes frightening, it is a book that asks us to develop a new way of reading, seeing, and thinking in order to penetrate its mysteries. And these new capacities, in turn, can enable us to read the book of life in a way that leads into the future. No wonder so many searchers were looking for a key to help unlock such an “open secret.” Would we find it, in the offerings from Patrick, Bastiaan, and others?
The course was wonderfully crafted as a seamless whole, with lectures, conversations, observation exercises, and artistic activities all building on one another and leading toward a true experience of what it might mean to “read” in a new way. Like the jewel-gates of the new Jerusalem, each part was a differently-colored facet that could potentially become a way for us into the oneness of reality. This will not happen automatically, though. The fulfillment of this potential requires us to work energetically and faithfully, persisting through all obstacles with the patient endurance that John evokes in the beginning of his text.
The shadow side of such activity is that if we do not take it up, what is coming inevitably to meet us from the future will appear as an abyss, a monster, a consuming fire, as John describes in such horrifying detail. These pictures can fill us with fear and dismay, preventing us from taking up the very work needed to transform them. What was so inspiring about the course was that we were guided to look at such pictures with clear eyes, activating the true inner strength needed to penetrate through them to the joy and love that sustain all existence. Once we experience the stirring of this power, we are motivated out of our own freedom to continue to cultivate it, in contrast to the fear of punishment that only lames and cripples our inner self.
Living with paradox or contradiction is essential to developing this inner strength. Pointing to such elements, Patrick read the passage in which the Lamb, the only being who can open the book with the seven seals, is described. The lamb as a symbol of powerlessness and sacrifice makes sense; yet he is first named as the Lion of Judah. A lamb who is also a lion? How can that be? We were asked to find a partner to talk with for a few minutes, opening up to this question and wrestling with it in our hearts. In this open space of wonder, imagination, and listening, a new awareness began to dawn that yes, such seeming impossibilities bear the forces of future transformation. In becoming open and receptive, yet awake and consciously discerning, we begin to sense what we need to develop in order to stand firm through the trials that are already breaking upon us.
A breathing between intense encounter and inner quiet was another activity we practiced. In our afternoon sessions, Bastiaan guided us to look first at the altar painting, and then at an individual tulip, silencing our inner noise and reactivity to become receptive to their messages. What does a painting or a flower have to speak to us? And what, after an interval of sleep, might we find ourselves wanting to speak to them? This was another kind of conversation that brought life and movement into our inner and outer experiences.
The text of the Apocalypse can be worked with in a similar way, Patrick suggested. A practice of focused reading and vivid imagination, alternating with periods of quiet contemplation and prayer, can allow its pictures to begin to speak to us and become an enlivening force. And The Act of Consecration of Man is itself a picture of the same process, enacted in word, gesture, and symbol. The more fully and consciously we participate in it, the better we are prepared for the unveiling of the ground of being that is already taking place in our time.
A few comments from participants at the end gave an indication of the richness and substance that I believe every one of us experienced during this amazing week. We were energized, empowered, and encouraged to go back to our daily lives, taking up the individual striving that connects us to the new community. “Hope is a memory of the future,” Patrick told us during his final lecture, quoting from Gabriel Marcel. By awakening our memories, activating our hope, the seminary has given an immeasurable gift to all of us.
Building Christ Community: A Course and an Experience
By Christine Wuerscher
We came together, by one’s and two’s, from across North America (New York, Maine, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, California, Alberta) to learn more about being an affiliate of the Christian Community from one another and from our leaders Bastian Baan, Patrick Kennedy and Oliver Steinrueck. Most of us had never met the others before and yet almost from the beginning, there was a remarkable degree of cohesion and openness to listening to and learning from the other. I have never been in a group in which 30 people (including the Seminary community) gave one other the space to express their thoughts without interrupting and allowed silence between speakers. It felt very respectful, safe, and, dare I say it, holy. We were united in a common goal: with our hearts, minds, and wills we wanted to learn more about serving Christ in community.
Most of the course participants only rarely have the blessing of participating in an Act of Consecration of Man, and so we especially treasured the daily immersion in it. It colored everything that followed in the day with a different light.
We moved across time and space to the beginnings of human community, where bloodlines tied people together. We heard that at the turning point of time, Christ formed a new type of community, one based on love. Acts and the letters of Paul, John, and James tell us about the struggles of these new communities, whose members were those who were aware of the presence of Christ in their lives. We can learn from them as we strive to be communities of Christ in our own contexts.
When we are tempted to look for the perfect model of community, it is important to be reminded that community is a process, not a destination, a verb, not a noun. It is a flexible body whose form is always changing, depending on the cultural context, the environment, the individuals and their needs and gifts. With so much in flux, where and how do we begin to create a vessel into which Christ can come?
Our understanding of what happens at the spiritual level can help us in determining the form of the community. The community archetype has a spirit, soul and physical body. The physical body has to do with members, finances and physical property. The soul is formed from the souls of all the members who interact and are bound together etherically in love. The spirit is the community’s point of contact with Christ. The latter occurs when the priest connects his or her being with the being (angel) of the congregation. The angel of the congregation, like other angels, is an organ of Christ. Before we come to the Act of Consecration of Man, the angel has already been preparing to meet us.
From this, we can understand why the altar and the sacraments must be the realm of the priest., the soul element of pastoral care can be shared by the members of the congregation and the priest, and the physical property can be mainly the realm of the members except for the physical “things” relating to the celebration of the sacraments, which must be directed by the priest, working at times in concert with architects and artists.
At the physical level, affiliates have no building but there is the need to set up and take down the worship area and to ensure, with the direction of the priest, that everything that is necessary for the celebration of the sacrament is at hand. We must also financially support the congregations from whom the priests come and cover the travel costs. As well, it would be good if we could and would support the work of The Christian Community at the regional and international level, which every established community is pledged to do, for we are all linked.
The spirit of the affiliate is embodied most clearly during the priests’ visits. Planning for priest’s visits and ensuring that all is ready and is in order for when he or she comes, is the part we members can play. We can help create the vessel for Christ to enter.
Besides the priests’ visits, there is much affiliates can do to nurture the body of Christ, (i.e. the community) in the soul realm. According to Steiner, in every act of wonder (vs. cynicism), we build up the astral body of Christ, in every feeling of compassion (vs. closed heartedness), we build up the life body of Christ and in every thought of conscience (vs. apathy), we build up the physical body of Christ. Our focus can be to strengthen the bonds of love between members and for the world and to strengthen our consciousness of Christ in our midst and in the world. Affiliates can put on devotional gatherings, puppet shows, courses, fund raisers for needy people and other activities that are responsive to the needs of the neighborhood. What is especially important is that we meet on a regular basis. Establishing a regular and more frequent rhythm of being in community is important for helping it to grow beyond the soul level to a level where a spiritual reality can be incarnated. We will know that something is being born when being together becomes a painful challenge! As someone in the group quoted, “If you’re happy and comfortable with your life, don’t join the Christian Community because your karma will begin to unfold.” During these painful challenges and at other times, participating in the Sacrament of Consultation can be a way of asking Christ to be our helping guide. Just as in the walk to Emmaus, Christ will join the conversation to open our hearts to the spirit working in our lives. When each individual member is striving to follow Christ and become more human, the whole community will benefit.
Affiliates face some different challenges from established Christian Communities. Because of the small size of the groups, the isolation from other communities, and the lack of a permanent space, members may experience loneliness and fatigue. This course has been one way of dispelling some of the loneliness in that we met others who are sharing some of the same challenges and now have contact information to continue our conversations and sharing. Fatigue can be mitigated by greater sharing of leadership roles. We explored the servant leadership model, one in which we are encouraged to see and serve the higher part of each individual, in which we recognize and encourage the expression of gifts and talents, and in which any resistance we offer comes out of an ideal (e.g. Love) rather than a position of power. We were also reminded of Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha and that making Christ, (and time spent with Him) the center, source and wellspring of our planning and doing, increases our ability to persevere in joy. We had the opportunity to participate in two forms of devotional gathering which was especially appreciated by those of us who had never experienced one. In the gatherings, we sang, we heard the gospel and pondered on it, we prayed in silence and aloud, the Lord’s Prayer was said, we took turns reading the statements of the creed, crossed ourselves and didn’t cross ourselves… We entered a holy space through our devotions.
All seemed to appreciate the inclusion of music, the prayerful reading of the gospel, the saying of the Lord’s prayer and the creed. As for other aspects, we found that what helped some people to feel connected to the spirit, hindered others. For example, many felt uncomfortable using words in the devotion that came from the Act of Consecration of Man. Some felt somehow it dishonored the Act of Consecration. Others felt that it was making the gathering a lesser or lighter version of the Act of Consecration instead of something that could stand beside the Act of Consecration and be worthy in its own right. It is good to share with one another what we are doing because we can learn from each other and broaden the richness of our resources. At the same time, the contexts, cultures and people of each affiliate vary, sometimes in quite significant ways, and it may be best to leave it up to each affiliate to craft something that befits their community. It would be great if the act of devotion truly becomes an expression of the community which is engaging in it.
I found this course and the associated activities to be very enriching, inspiring exciting. and motivating. We deepened our knowledge of Christ, of the sacraments and of the Christian Community in its local, regional and international forms. We experienced Christ, in the sacrament and in each other, as the source of life and love and the reason for being the body of Christ in the world. We felt freed and encouraged to create a community whose shape, roles, types of activity and forms of devotion match our context and people. We felt empowered and urged to create and sustain communities of Christ for the sake of the world, and for the sake of The Christian Community. For, if we can figure out how to create true communities where everyone has a part to play, then we can become less dependent on our priests to do so much work on our behalf. Members becoming more engaged and participatory will allow priests to focus on the sacraments and serve several Christian Communities and/or affiliates. This, in turn, will allow us to be in more places in the world, to embody love and the truth that “there is no spirit without matter and no matter without spirit” (Steiner). And that may lead to change in our world. Perhaps it is for that reason that Oliver said, “Affiliates are the future of the church!”