I have a way of being in denial that I am about to leave big adventure, sometimes to the point that I still don’t think that I’ve left even after I have in fact left. Since it is in my old familiar Northwest, it hasn’t really seemed like anything is amiss. La la la, I’m back in Olympia, hanging out in my old regular coffee shop that is within sight of the apartment where I lived for five years. No big deal.
Give me another day, and I’ll be on a plane to the Midwest and that will change a bit. Reality will intrude, and the fun will really get started.
Remember how I mentioned that plans change and I will need to stay flexible? Well, that has certainly been the case for the last couple of days. The main news to report right now is a bit unhappy, and adds to this pattern of weird and unpleasant things happening while I’m in this town. Due to some sudden last-minute financial complications, my colleagues from Italy will not be joining the Holy Co-op! Road Show. This is a major disappointment, as they were going to be a wonderful living contribution to the next week (Madison to NYC). It is also a bit embarrassing to everyone involved. Co-ops aren’t perfect and things get messed up sometimes. But the show must go on.
On a brighter note, I’ve crossed paths with a bunch of really nice folks. The Seattle and Olympia events were both smallish (around a dozen apiece) but they were in great settings at the Mustard Seed House and Traditions Fair Trade, and each led to some good conversation.
Olympia is also the location for an interfaith cooperative effort, which is being led by my good friend Jim Shulruff, who is a maggid (teacher) at Temple Beth Hatfiloh, and also played a key role in getting me into this whole book mess – thanks again Jim! It is in the early stages, but he is building on existing interfaith groups and an established dialogue to move from talk to action. Their initial focus will be to find ways to meet community needs for food and housing through cooperative organizing.
It is still too early to tell where this effort will lead, but the initial response has reportedly been good. One possibility being explored will be to organize faith communities to contribute to an economic development fund through a local credit union.
While I’m at it, I would like to briefly describe a couple of other interesting faith-based models from this area.
In Seattle’s University District, a diverse group of eight churches have come together to cooperatively address their common infrastructure needs. Many of these churches have aging buildings that will take progressively more resources to maintain. In some cases, these congregations have shrunk and no longer need the same size buildings that they have had. They must also be aware that faith communities are not immune from the financial crisis, and some are facing foreclosure of their properties.
They have formed the University District Ecumenical Campus Coalition to work out a shared facility, in order to be better stewards of their resources. They are just about done with a feasibility study, so please keep an eye on this visionary bunch if you know of any other congregations that are dealing with property issues.
Meanwhile, Masjid al-Nur, located near Olympia, Wash., is a community whose members share ownership of the land on which their mosque and homes sit. This mosque’s membership is ethnically diverse, but the housing community is based in the Cham, an ethnic group from Cambodia that forms the core of the congregation.
The Cham collectively purchased a plot of land, and divided it into a central plot for the mosque, surrounded by home sites for 40 families. This blend of ownership in which residents own their own dwellings on common land, is similar to that found in manufactured home cooperatives, which are a fairly common model in the United States. Major decisions are made democratically, by majority rule, while lesser decisions are entrusted to various committees. A second development, along similar lines, is being planned for 26 more homes on an adjacent property.
In other news, the next segment of the tour is finally coming into focus. One of my big learning experiences has been that December is a really extraordinarily bad time to plan anything. Apparently there are some holidays. Who knew?
Nevertheless, I’ve finally got a plan for Chicago and Detroit, even if the Italians won’t be around to join me. They are dedicated cooperators, and I think the worst thing for me is thinking about how disappointing it must be for them to cancel at the last minute. So Marina and Eddi, this next week is still for you. Your willingness to come over here and teach us about your people’s accomplishments are a great inspiration, even if it didn’t turn out as we had planned. I’ll be thinking about you much and taking strength from your passion. I hope that things improve.