What Are We Becoming?

I am a latecomer to ICA, yet in less than a year of joining the Board of Directors in the summer of 2003 I became Board President. The aooga horn of alarm should have sounded, yet my vanity won out and I acceded to the call. I am mostly, though, to be frank, not entirely, glad I did. The rewards are there, though the price to reap them has been steep.

All I knew when I joined the Board were the methods Gordon Harper taught me in the late ‘90s. I remember my surprise upon learning we have a rather large building in Chicago. Then even greater surprise upon discovering the Ecumenical Institute actually owns it. And even more surprise at the religious order that preceded it all.

I have never been involved in an organization where its history poses such a paradox for the future. On the one hand, ICA’s history looms large yet today as a source of inspiration and validation for the actions we take. At the same time, this same history weighs on the ICA of tomorrow like a dyspeptic uncle. The number of voices who claim ownership of the ICA story is legion. But this is a claim on the past; few have laid claim to our future. We relish telling the stories of adversity and accomplishment of our storied past. The energy notably flags when we shift our focus to the future.

I was struck by three things at the 30th anniversary celebration I attended in Chicago in 2003. First, that it was only arguably our 30th anniversary, since we actually started, as most of you who will read this already know, some years before. Second, the telling absence of youth at the gathering, or even a youngish face, or, frankly, a face of someone under 40. And, third, that the fond stories celebrants told of their time with ICA all preceded the onset of salaries, of order members becoming employees.

It is not clear to me yet that ICA is a non-profit social service organization more than it is an intentional community. I joined the Board thinking it was the former, yet discovered upon my arrival more than a few vestiges of the latter.

Last night I sat on a park bench on Mercer Island—an upscale community on an island in the center of Lake Washington—and wrote this, “ICA enchants me and baffles me.”

In 1973 ICA “turned to the world” and, in a precocious act of re-branding, changed its name to signify the shift in focus, attention, and service. I recall a quote from James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, that for those who experienced the front lines of World War II, they would forever more enter the future walking backwards. That is how I see the veterans of OE/EI/ICA. An experience so intense cannot be replicated.

Our past looms large over a rather muddled present and a future that is yet to emerge. I yearn to capture the future for ICA in words equal in audacity to “turn to the world”, an idea so compelling that it would challenge us to re-brand again. Yet what exactly this next turning is eludes me, eludes us.

For now I seem doomed to contemplate the question, “What are we becoming?” It seems to be the question that is haunting me in many parts of my life: As a man, a team leader at my work, and as President of ICA. I do not yet know how to wrest ICA from its past and thrust it into a future so engaging and inevitable we will have no choice but to find ourselves celebrating evocative new stories overshadowing those of yesterday.

-- Richard Wilkinson, President ICA USA Board of Directors
Topic revision: r1 - 21 Jun 2006, GordonHarper
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