Engaging the Next Generation

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January 16, 2013

At a seminar on cooperative organizations in Saskatchewan, Harold Chapman, a 93-year-old professor, historian, and writer, told us the history from the inside of his involvement in cooperative organizations as a consultant. He talked about values and principles at the heart of this organizational model, and the challenge that it evolved in response to.

Now the Co-op in Saskatoon has 80 000 members, many of whom have probably not read the organizational documents, and may or may not try to live up to the espoused values of the cooperative.

 

What are the values of co-ops? Caring for each other in the community, practicing what is good for the long term and generations to come, and making sure any profit goes back to the producers and farmers and community members rather than shareholders living anywhere.

 

Chapman emphasized, though, that education is needed for anything to go beyond 1.5 generations. This is true for co-ops, for intentional community, and for followers of Christ. We need to learn the reasons why this alternative business model started, what context there were at the time, and what needs this organizational model addresses. Although today's Saskatchewan cooperatives, like credit unions and food co-ops, are hardly distinguishable from banks and chain grocery stores on the outside, these are actually radical models of altering economic realities in a community.

 

The next generation needed to be "engaged," Chapman asserted. But perhaps they are, just not in the ways that the older generations recognizes or wants. I've already met several young people working at new models, new structures that act out the same values as Chapman started with in his youth, but they might not look like the large-scale agriculture cooperatives and credit unions that his generation needed.

 

Just as we look at models and structures in our societies, we can look at our churches. What do these structures mean about those who established them? How are they similar or different in the next generation? What about the underlying values and principles? Are they still relevant? If so, what do they look like now? How do the structures or approaches need to change if the values are relevant, but the structures don't serve the purpose anymore?

 

Perhaps "engaging" the next generation also means being willing to let go of the ways that current structures look and operate in order to make space for responses to the emerging needs of society. It's a challenge to work at this transition in healthy ways, to work together across generations, and to truly be a community that learns and grows together. This is true whether for co-op communities, or for the body of Christ.

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