"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."I had this thought in the back of my head as I traveled to Chicago for the meeting of the steering committee of The Consultation but even more especially as I traveled from there to Nashville for the meeting of the Board of The Episcopal Women's Caucus.
It should come as no surprise that many organizations in this country are experiencing decline. Robert D. Putnam's 1995 book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" revealed these trends across all levels of our life, including civic organizations and churches.
The Caucus is no exception. As I looked around the room at who was at The Consultation as well as The Caucus, it was hard not to see that we are an aging body that hasn't attracted young people into our groups or governing bodies for years.
Like The Episcopal Church, The Caucus has been at a dangerous plateau for at least a decade. We have begun to decline in membership, energy and focus.
The passion that once called us into being has been replaced by a complacency fueled by the belief that, since we have Katharine Jefferts Schori as our Presiding Bishop and Bonnie Anderson as the President of the House of Deputies, all the battles for equality for women in the church have been won.
That's about as true as saying that, now that Barack Obama is in the White House, racism has been completely eradicated.
If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
With the decline in membership, energy and focus has come a loss of clarity in our own identity, which began to contribute to the downward spiral of membership, energy and focus.
In Thurman's words, we needed to stop asking what the world needs and, instead, ask what makes us come alive and go do it.
So, we did.
We had some difficult discussions - some "sit-down-come-to-Jesus" moments of truth-telling - which allowed us to gain some clarity about the energy that continues to hold us together.
In the midst of a dark time in our communal life, however, we were more clearly able to see the glowing embers of our passion for advocacy for the status of women in the church and in the world.
As we gained more and more clarity about our passion for advocacy, you could begin to feel the energy released in the room, which turned our conversations to vehicles and structure.
We began to move from Pyramids to Circles.
Traditional leadership structures look very much like a pyramid, with the large membership base at the bottom, moving upwards through layers of hierarchy to the narrow top which is where the governing body resides.
The resource energy flow is from the bottom up. The regulatory flow is from the top down.
What we began to acknowledge and name out loud is that the way of women in leadership is much more circular. We are more collaborative in style and are less insecure about sharing power and authority.
We began to wonder, then, if we had been wasting energy trying to fit our round selves into a pyramid shaped hole. We wondered if we might be able to free up some energy by changing the shape of the way we organize ourselves.
We decided, then, to enter into a three year experiment, tweaking the structures to better fit our identity and focus. For example, we changed the status of President, VP, etc., to 'Convener' which will be a one year term.
We organized the board tasks into 3 month term of commitment, with the possibility of renewing that position at the end of three months.
Understanding that our our voices, as tools of communication, have traditionally been the best vehicles of advocacy for women, we gave our highest priority of focus to our newly established monthly e-mail news letter, "The Monthly Caucus" - which will make its debut the end of March, the publication of Ruach - which we have committed to producing three times per year, the still-under construction but soon-to-be-ready Web page and our brand-spanking new FaceBook page.
Things began to happen. Our FaceBook Group had been in existence for 48 hours and had gained 264 members. What was so remarkable to us was not so much the number of people but the great variety of people who signed on - young, old, male, female, ordained, laity, and people of all color.
Our new mission statement is
"The Episcopal Women's Caucus: Advocating for women since 1971, theologically, spiritually and politically."We also decided to take the risk of leadership in reaching out to the members of the former "Women's Council" of TEC (Episcopal Church Women, Daughters of the King, National Altar Guild, etc.), The Commission on the Status of Women, as well as parallel ecumenical and interfaith organizations, to see if, together, we might develop a portal of connection for us to be in common cause partnership for the advocacy of improving the status of women.
We began to come alive again.
I offer this honest reflection on the beginnings of our experiment in new organizational life to others because I believe that the internet and technology does not have to be, as Putnam posits, the reason for 'bowling alone'. It can, in fact, be a vehicle for a newly defined communal life of service to the world.
Thurman is right. It's a matter of clarity about your identity and vocation. It's a matter of determining focus and priorities. Ultimately, it's a matter of the soul.
I'm also remembering the story about someone who asked Mother Theresa about world hunger. "It's overwhelming," s/he said, "How can we make sure that everyone in the world gets enough to eat?"
Mother Theresa responded, "One. One. One. One."
We may not be able to end sexism or racism or all the other forms of prejudice in the world in our lifetime, but we can start with one. And, that one is me. And you. Which becomes us. And them. Which becomes more of us.
We're off on an exciting journey to turn pyramids into circles.
Because that's what makes us come alive.
It just may be what the world needs more of as well.