Beginnings: Canticle Farm, Part Two.
I have a certain interest in beginnings, stemming largely from my somewhat tenuous relationship with them. I am a dreamer, with a head full of ideas and a love for possibility. But then, having dreamed very big dreams, I often find myself in the awkward place of asking, “Ok, where do I start?”
This question has morphed into what I have to claim as an obsession with beginnings. Whenever I see someone doing inspiring and impactful work in the world, I can barely wait to ask them, “So, how did you get started?”
The question of beginnings came up profoundly when talking to Anne Symens-Bucher. Anne is the executive assistant to Joanna Macy, a dedicated worker on behalf of the Great Turning, and a corner stone in founding Canticle Farm.
She carried the seed of the idea of Canticle Farm for over 30 years. As a young woman, she was deeply inspired by the Catholic worker movement. “I grew up in a Franciscan family, which took me to the New York Catholic worker.” It was her time in the Catholic worker movement that first planted the idea of an intentional community, although at its inception, it looked very different. “I always figured I would be in community with radical Catholics, and really thought that people had to be a lot the same in order to live in community.”
Her idea found fertile soil when she met Terry Symens in 1981. “He was pretty much the first person who said yes to my vision of creating a community. Then we set off thinking we were going to create this mixed Franciscan lay community.” At the time, Terry was planning on being a Catholic priest. “Things didn’t work out like we expected,” chuckles Anne. The two have been married for 29 years and now have 5 children.
As they both got swept up in having children, the idea was put on hold. With a big family in the Bay Area, the two had full lives. “Terry got pretty focused on just surviving and I was more like, ‘oh my gosh, is this ever going to happen?’”
Anne cooked up an idea to help Terry remember their original plan. “It was a half baked idea, but it worked. I (…) thought that if I could get Terry to a 10 day intensive (workshop with Joanna Macy), maybe he would remember. Terry decided to take the intensive and about halfway through he turned to me and said, ‘ok, what are we going to do?’ At that moment, I had an emergent idea, which was to open our house to young people who were engaged in the great turning.”
That conversation was six years ago. The couple then set out to create the community that had been incubating for so long. They now faced two major struggles: gaining access to the house next door, where they wanted to house community members, and finding those community members.
Then, one synchronistic day about four and a half years ago answered both of these questions. After leaving a meditation center, Anne ran into her friend Poncho Ramos-Steirle. She was expressing her excitement about how things were starting to actualize with idea for community and Pancho responded that he was also working on forming a community. “It was probably one of 50 conversations I had had over 30 years so I didn’t think, ‘It’s finally going to happen!’ but I was definitely juiced up.” Upon leaving the conversation, Anne checked her phone messages, only to receive a message from the owner of the property next door. “He said that people in the front house were moving out and did I know anyone who wanted to move in? That was a Friday. On Sunday, Pancho came out and looked at the house and said, ‘yeah, lets make this happen!’” That was in January. Pancho, plus a cadre of people, including Adelaja Simon, moved in February.
“At this point, I was formed enough by Joanna’s work to know not to try to control this. (This idea) had been germinating for years, and Poncho and Adelaja really got it started.”
Canticle Farm has continued to embody Joanna’s work around the Great Turning in new and profound ways.
In her work, Joanna highlights that the Great Turning is happening in three different ways: through holding actions, shifts in consciousness and the creation of new structures. “Where those three things are coming together is Canticle Farm. We’ve got programs that are part of holding actions, because people need food and people need programs and services and the Great Unraveling is already happening and has been in our neighborhood for a long time. We are also trying to ground in alternative ways to live, so growing our own food, living in community, having a restorative system and a place to try to figure out how to deal with conflict in a different way. (…) And then the shift in consciousness is just the whole container of what were doing here, how we see ourselves in it.”