The Affiliate model has matured and taken on its own, rather fluid identity. John Sivalon’s keynote at MAC 2014 still rings in my ears: “…the Maryknoll Affiliates are well positioned to be carried into the future by this new wave of mission.” The Affiliate model is said to have enough structure to hold it accountable and provide solidity and form but not so much as to make it burdensome. The model is flexible, adaptable, and mostly unencumbered by formal obligations that don’t necessarily promote mission. Perhaps most importantly, relationships (the relational nature of all things) are key. As such, guided by the Four Pillars—Spirituality, Global Vision, Community, and Action, the model allows for and genuinely welcomes all vocational expressions with emphasis on a horizontal, supportive, faith-filled community.
With so much that has been positive, at this juncture we must also recognize the sobering reality that, particularly in the US, Affiliate members are aging. While several international chapters, particularly in Latin America and South Korea, have seen significant growth recently, numbers in the US have plateaued and, in a few cases, chapters have become inactive or have merged.
So, we are met with the question often put to couples in a marriage prep course, “What are you going to do when the newness wears off?” Conscious recognition (not denial) is the starting place for addressing any difficult reality. A second step is to avoid turning inward in a protective mode that puts the bulk of its emphasis on organizational structures, proper protocols, endlessly redacting documents, and whatever else might give the comforting, and illusionary, impression of control and productivity—protecting what is, rather than looking towards what can be.
Thankfully, it’s fair to say that Maryknoll’s wonderfully crazy tradition of going where others would rather not go has infiltrated the Affiliates’ mindset, including the Board, Regional Coordinators and Executive Coordinator. The recent Affiliate-wide survey (see David Schaffner’s Summary, page 6) provides a comprehensive, honest, present-day look into the mind, heart and soul of Affiliates…What is effective? What isn’t? What can we do to move forward? At the fall Affiliate Board meeting, three areas of future focus were identified and committees created to address them:
Communication – developing tools for Chapters to use for reflection and activities; improving communication about short-term immersion opportunities; better use of digital technology (Facebook, Twitter, website, etc.); possibly creating a new video; notifying Affiliates of talks and other opportunities in their area.
Connection – pursuing substantive collaboration with other Maryknoll expressions, as well as with outside groups like JustFaith and the Third Wave; connecting with returned Maryknollers.
Growth & Sustainability – engaging and attracting youth*; considering dual-membership (and possibly virtual membership), particularly for Affiliates who are too geographically distant to directly connect with a chapter; fostering a Maryknoll/Affiliate spirituality.
The vitality of our movement is most visible and best judged at the local, chapter level. Aligning with the Maryknoll charism, Affiliates come at life with a different, countercultural worldview—one that is, perhaps, never more needed than now. The word “urgency” continues to surface in this regard as our earth resources are more depleted, our politics more pathetic, and the poor throughout the globe more marginalized. There is a gigantic blind spot in the political and ideological solutions being offered in that, without a transformative, loving spirituality, worn, unconscious patterns will only be repeated. I believe Maryknoll’s vision and the Affiliates’ Four Pillars offer a much better chance at transformation. In the end, only love can transform.
*It appears that a 79-year-old Pope and a 74-year-old presidential candidate have shaken up the conventional wisdom on how to engage and attract youth. Their authenticity, openness, sense of justice (especially for the disenfranchised), and straightforward language that is neither overly pious nor politicized have clearly engaged young people.