Fellowship in the Nineties: A Continental Network Open to All
Foundation for Intentional Community board members explain the Fellowship’s ambitious projects for helping people get accurate information about today’s intentional communities, promoting contact between communities, and relating products of the movement to the wider culture.
Formed as a regional network in 1948, the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC) shifted to a continent-wide focus in 1986. We began holding semiannual board meetings the following year, and set about identifying the intentional community movement’s needs and selecting projects to meet those needs. In a sense, this reaching out was a test to see if communities were ready to act in concert, working together to explore the diversity and promote the strengths of cooperative living. Now, several years into the experiment, we know with certainty that the sustaining interest and energy are there.
The Fellowship’s work is based on four common values:
- inclusivity, and
- unrestricted freedom to leave a group at any time.
To promote these values, the Fellowship has pursued four main goals:
- to act as a clearinghouse for up-to-date information about intentional communities, including referrals to match groups seeking new members with people in search of a group;
- to build trust among communities by encouraging communication, friendships, visits, and cooperative activities;
- to facilitate exchange of skills, technical information, and practical experience among communities — both those that are well established and those newly forming; and
- to broaden the wider culture’s awareness of cooperative alternatives and the practical value of the structures and “tools” developed by intentional communities.
How Do We Accomplish These Goals?
The Fellowship’s first major project was creating the 1990 Directory of Intentional Communities. This comprehensive sourcebook took more than two years to compile, and has become the standard reference about intentional community living today. The Directory has been highly successful — selling out three printings, over 18,000 copies in all.
Encouraged by the popularity of the Directory, the Fellowship decided to revive a companion publication, Communities magazine. Founded in 1973, the magazine had been declining since the mid ’80s, and a substantial debt had accumulated. In 1992, the Fellowship completed negotiations to become the magazine publisher. We have now paid off the debt and assembled a dedicated staff that has expanded the scope, tightened up the editing, and returned Communities to the magazine racks on a quarterly basis.
Fellowship Board Meetings
The Fellowship is administered by a board of directors, comprised of members who are highly active in the organization. The board gathers twice yearly for three-day meetings, hosted each time by a different community or support organization. In an attempt to make meetings accessible to participants from all corners of the continent, the location is rotated from region to region across North America. Meeting agenda topics range from the nitty-gritty of project details, to the exploration of long-term visions; from detailed budget analysis, to the delicate feelings surrounding personal changes. Board meetings are open to all, and are operated by consensus in a way that encourages input from all participants. The meetings provide a great opportunity for newcomers to get involved in a variety of Fellowship activities.
Each gathering is a time to meet new people and renew established friendships — expanding the personal connections that are the ultimate wealth of our organization. Fellowship members receive copies of the quarterly Newsletter, and notice of all meetings . In addition, board meeting invitations are sent to everyone on our mailing list who lives within a day’s drive of the meeting site.
1993 Celebration of Community
In pursuit of our goals, and to gauge the burgeoning energy in the communities movement, the Fellowship organized the Celebration of Community held in August 1993. Over 800 people from 15 different countries came together at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. We listened to a variety of inspiring speakers, participated in workshops, connected in small groups, learned to juggle, networked for future projects, sang, laughed, and hugged. While no dates have been set for the next event of this type, the Fellowship expects to build on this success by hosting future gatherings.
The Fellowship helps publicize regional gatherings hosted by local communities and support organizations. These regional events are excellent opportunities for face-to-face contact with seekers from the area and with members of nearby communities. Regular regional gatherings are currently hosted in Virginia by Twin Oaks, in Indiana by Padanaram, and in the Seattle area by the Northwest Intentional Communities Association.
The Fellowship cosponsors the annual conferences of the Communal Studies Association (CSA) and the triennial conferences of the International Communal Studies Association (ICSA). These meetings bring together a diverse mix of people, including scholars, curators of historic communal sites, and members and former members of contemporary communities. Presentations range from academic papers on historic communities, to discussions of contemporary community relations with the wider society.
Consensus And Network Building for Resolving Impasses and Developing Group Effectiveness — CANBRIDGE is a process collective, organized on the premise that community experience offers unique insights into group dynamics. This offshoot of the Fellowship provides assistance to established and forming communities in skill areas such as group process, conflict resolution, consensus building, organizational development, decision making, and meeting design. Communities, cooperatives, businesses, and other groups may contact the Fellowship for referrals to experienced communitarians willing to offer consultations, facilitate challenging meetings, and conduct training.
Revolving Loan Fund
The Fellowship assumed management of a long-established community loan fund when the Community Educational Services Council (CESCI) dissolved in the summer of 1994. Since 1952 this fund has loaned out over $200,000 — in amounts up to $5,000 — to help intentional community businesses with start-ups or expansions. The Fellowship is attracting additional assets, and plans to expand community business-loan activities across the continent. Looking ahead, this loan fund could provide a base in the future for launching a community credit union or bank that could finance larger ventures.
The Speakers Bureau can provide experienced presenters on intentional community topics for college classes, civic groups, churches, and other organizations. A list describing the areas of each speaker’s expertise is available from Fellowship headquarters. Topics of general interest include the following: overview of the communities movement, workplace cooperation, sustainable living, Christian communities, cooperative parenting, land trusts, barter systems, communal education, Eastern religious communities, intentional community history, and archeology.
The Fellowship is considering several other initiatives — projects awaiting the time, energy, or dollars to move ahead. These include
- pamphlets on cooperative living — such as how to start a community, legal options for incorporating, or choosing an appropriate decision-making process;
- curricula for undergraduate and graduate programs in the study of historic and contemporary communities;
- mutual savings funds for major medical expenses such as that operated by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities;
- outreach programs to mainstream businesses — offering to share our considerable experience in cooperation, group process, and alternative ways of managing human resources; and
- support materials for communities struggling with local government over such issues as zoning, building codes, health department regulations, and tax status.
How Do We Work Together?
Consensus is the decision-making process used at Fellowship board meetings, although members come from living groups using many different styles of governance — only some of which include a form of consensus. Without judging how other groups make decisions, the Fellowship has chosen consensus for our work because of its potential for inclusivity and bridging different perspectives. Consensus supports the full expression of divergent views, encourages the input of all participants, and creates openings for a wide range of communitarians to get involved in communities movement work.
The Fellowship has a pattern of assessing where there’s a need, then jumping into the work whether or not we possess the required skills. This has resulted in a lot of on-the-job training — over the last decade Fellowship members have become publishers, editors, accountants, distribution and marketing experts, computer wizards, bulk-mail coordinators, consensus trainers, conference planners, database managers, public speakers, writers, and diplomats.
As we work together, mutual understanding deepens, trust builds, and Fellowship meetings and projects become rich sharing experiences — much more than just occasions for doing business. As a decentralized organization, different tasks are managed from different sites around the country, and it’s not uncommon for a project team to be scattered across the continent. In this electronic age, location is not the limiting factor it once was, as a quick review of Fellowship work assignments illustrates.
The Directory is managed in Missouri while articles are edited in Virginia — with substantial help from folks as widespread as California, Oregon, Texas, and Tennessee. The Directory Listings are updated by a networker who travels around the country continuously while coordinating with the database manager who resides in Michigan. For Communities magazine, the managing editor lives in Colorado, the Reach editor lives in Massachusetts, and the guest editor may live anywhere. The membership Newsletter is edited in Kentucky, printed in Illinois, and mailed out of Missouri. Fellowship headquarters is near Seattle, and the organization is incorporated in Indiana.
Who Joins the Fellowship?
In a word — anyone. That is, anyone interested in supporting the intentional communities movement and the vision of the Fellowship. A member community may be an ecovillage, a cohousing group, a residential cooperative, a hippie farm, or a monastery. Individual members may live in a cooperative situation, or may be completely unaffiliated. Alternative businesses and networking organizations can join as nonresidential affiliates (see membership card on the last page for details). [[in progress]]
Send your written inquiries to
Fellowship headquarters Rt 1 Box 155 Rutledge, MO 63563
or call us at 660-883-5545 (fax-7828). If you call long distance and reach our answering machine, your call will be returned “collect” — unless you leave your mailing address.
A Dream Come True
For many of us, the Fellowship is the realization of a long-sought vision: a continental association dedicated to the nurturing and promotion of intentional community living, and to helping people find the right home in community for themselves and their families. This dream can grow only as fast as more people feel the call to share their energy with other communitarians; if you’re inspired to participate in the flowering of the intentional communities movement, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
About the Author
The editorial board of the Foundation for Intentional Community publicizes news of interest to communitarians and others engaged in cooperative lifestyles. The editorial board seeks to increase awareness of intentional communities and related projects through Fellowship publications: the FIC Newsletter, Communities magazine, Communities Directory, and various occasional mailings. Board members and intentional community members are listed in this article.