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
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
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