Arriving a few days earlier in Dornach, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit a Monet exhibition and hear Bach’s Matthew Passion which two orchestras and three choirs, one being a children’s choir from the Basel Waldorf School. What a real gift it was, to land in Europe and experience something of the rich culture that lives there.
The homeopathic touch of culture prepared me for the marathon of meetings that ran over seven days, beginning with the English speaking general secretaries and closing with the AGM. My challenge now is to depict the winds of change that I experienced this year in Dornach. Over the last ten years the people gathering around the general secretaries’ table have changed to the point where I am the third longest standing member. A year ago, I asked myself the question, did I have a role in this new constellation and this year provided me with an affirmation. This is important when considering that everything has its time and the importance of being awake to when a time of change is needed. Working in smaller groups, having time to deepen conversations and limiting the number of items on the agenda all helped in a productive meeting.
Eighteen countries were represented in the combined meeting of general secretaries and country representatives. At times, with the executive and section leaders, thirty-five plus people worked together. It proved far more productive to break into working groups with themes based on the three target images or visions that the Goetheanum leadership are engaged with. In the back of my mind was also a question of whether there was a link to the three directions we are working with in New Zealand.
The three targets images arose as an impulse from the 2015 World Conference and the question, how can we best prepare for 2024 and the centenary of the Christmas Conference? In the 1924 meeting Steiner saw fresh winds of change sweeping through the Society, he envisaged new content constantly flowing into the Christmas Meeting and all that happens in the Anthroposophical Society. He did not intend it to be a Society of preservation but one that was alive, transformative and relevant to the times. Despite this intention, people live with questions regarding the Society, its form and future. Today, organisations founded out of an anthroposophical impulse struggle to identify whether the impulse remains alive and well, who will take it forward and what skills do they need. The pioneers leave and while it is not appropriate to preserve their way of working, it is not easy to capture the flame needed to transform and evolve the organisation. Burning questions arise out of the work in the various fields and professions. The work and research in the school of spiritual science can provide a source of nourishment and inspiration for work on the ground. The Society provides the platform for people to meet and work together, it can be the organ that enables and supports change.
In choosing to share the thread of Ueli Hurter (BD section leader) opening talk, I attempt to share his very practical approach to expressing how the spiritual is present in our working life, how the School of Spiritual Science embraces and includes the professions. Over the years, the tendency has been for the three elements, School (Class), Society and Sections to separate and operate independently, if at all. For many years the School was a hidden secret in the Society, increasingly the life of the Society has dwindled and in New Zealand, section work has hardly evolved.
Out of his practical experience of work in agriculture, Ueli shared seven qualities that he observes, like steps a deepening experience evolves that can take us closer to the source. 1. Through our profession, we step out into the public arena. There. we are exposed by every product we sell, medicine we make, child we teach. 2. As an anthroposophist, we stand as a representative of Anthroposophy. Are we able to confidently speak to why we do what we do? 3. At some point, I made the decision to recognise the truth of spiritual science. What led me to this decision, what was the will impulse that led me to affirm it? 4. In time, out of the search for the second source, I deepen the decision to say yes to anthroposophy. Now I individualise Anthroposophy in me. In such striving, I work to develop a direct relationship with the time spirit so that what I do is in concordance with the time spirit. 5. This leads to researching the relationship with the world, ‘O human being know the world in its spirituality’. 6. Now I deepen my engagement not only with my immediate task but with world matters, such as the decimation of the bees or effect of GM seeds. In questions of nutrition, my work is with the earthly and cosmic. 7. Finally by engaging in peer review, I stand before the other open to learning as my ideas and actions are mirrored back to me.
Every time a group of farmers, teachers, therapists come together they have the possibility to work together, to really research what the experiences and challenges in their work are asking of them. This can be the foundation of section work, in every meeting there is the possibility to strengthen the Society, while the School can inspire and help us better understand what we are meeting.
The second target focuses on the Goetheanum leadership as they review their job descriptions, their collegial co-working, their active connection with the Anthroposophical Society, including their work with the general secretaries and country representatives. Creating the inner space for section work as well as their outreach, as in how they work in cooperation with one another, and maintain contact with public organisations and the wider public. Intuitively we experience in a first meeting, whether or not a house is in order. This impression may well influence the possibility of any ongoing relationship. To connect and form sound bridges we need to develop tools such as a language that is accessible; the courage to assess the different roles and their necessity; the capacity to support others in their role, to learn from the other, work with one another and together develop sound research. All members of the School of Spiritual Science agree to be a representative of anthroposophy in the world, with this comes responsibility not asked of members of the Society.
The third target led into the financials and the question, can there be a turnaround in the next three years, can the Goetheanum become economically viable? Every year the Goetheanum has a short fall of 15%. This raises questions, can they continue to retain a stage group, care for the buildings and grounds? Clearly those who visit the Goetheanum have the possibility to be inspired by what they experience there. Through conferences and workshops, they may get a sense of the work that goes on there. In reality, many members do not have such an opportunity and therein lies a real challenge. Without having a warmth body between the Goetheanum and the members it is difficult to provide the necessary support and without the support the Goetheanum would not exist. The challenge of the present situation led to a dynamic meeting between the councils and Goetheanum leadership.
The presence of treasurers in a meeting brings a direct and pragmatic approach to dealing with the needs of the Society. Justus Wittich, Goetheanum treasurer, shared his dilemma. This year the Goetheanum needs SF3.8 million and with the present reckoning they will be SF400k short. Conversations over the evening meal buzzed and when the meeting resumed a group of treasurers proposed that the following morning the executive and section leaders be exempted from the meeting while the representatives from the many countries meet and tackle the challenge as a world issue. All responded positively and the following morning an enlivened group met and by morning break had made some decisions and realized that we needed to first change the way we think and secondly fill the financial gap for next year
The Goetheanum was later asked if they could manage with less but after the cuts of 2015 they would find it difficult to ask any more of the coworkers.
Clearly an increase in payments made by members would increase finances and relieve the situation. It was then that the various countries looked at what additional funds they could provide. The response was amazing, in total SF200k was guaranteed. Some of the poorer countries could offer little, other countries such as Holland and Australia were able to be generous. From New Zealand I suggested an additional NZ$4000. There was a very special moment when the Goetheanum leadership returned and Justus was told that we had raised SF 200k of the shortfall. The look of sheer relief and gratitude on his face was truly moving.
This session challenged me to reach out to New Zealand members and our way of thinking. Being remote from the Goetheanum there is little wonder that members struggle to build a connection, when a cry comes from Dornach it is easy to think, ‘what has that to do with me?’ My question is, are we increasingly victims of isolation and regionalization? I shudder to think of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen’s messages of nationalism, and yet I relies that I too can shut my door on another, disengage with impulses not directly related to myself, my work or my region. Writing this I’m also aware of the number of people that support all kinds of organisations and initiatives and at the same time I also understand how easy it can be to disassociate. Thinking of the Goetheanum I ask, what would it mean to have no Goetheanum, no center? If I liken it to the blood circulating through the body, where would the heart be, would the blood simply dissipate and what would it mean for the future of the Society, for Anthroposophy? Evaluation is often based on measurable outcomes, how and what do we evaluate, is it I based or world based? Perhaps more important is to what it is we value and how can we support what we value.