• Perspectives on a Century: A Compendium of 100 Years of The Christian Community Journal

    by  • 26 January 2022 • Extract, Religion, The Christian Community • 0 Comments

    A century ago in central Europe, a small group of Rudolf Steiner’s theology students, with the help of Steiner himself, established The Christian Community as a movement for religious renewal. From its founding they published a regular journal containing articles from the movement’s key figures, including Emil Bock, Evelyn Capel, Alfred Heidenreich and Rudolf Frieling, as a way to share knowledge and insight and develop ideas and practice. 

    Published in celebration of the centenary of The Christian Community, Perspectives on a Century is a landmark compendium which gathers a wide-ranging selection of important articles spanning one hundred years of The Christian Community journal from 1922 to 2022. The articles include contemplations on the Bible and festivals of the years, essays on the lives and work of artists and writers, and explorations of ideas about science, the natural world and the earth as a living entity. 

    This article by Kalmia Bittelston (1909-89) published in the journal during the 1950s considers different types of communities, from those we are born into to the ones we choose, culminating in a description of the aims of The Christian Community. Like her brother, Adam, Kalmia Bittleston was ordained a priest. She worked
    in Leeds and London. She was always active, particularly in social endeavours, working quietly and in a down-to-earth way.

    The Problem of Community

    From time to time we all hear about the lack of community in the world today. It is pointed out that some people, or classes of people, are selfish, only looking after their own interests, and unconscious of the needs of others. This is certainly often true, but in fact we all belong to a number of circles of community because men and women need each other everywhere in the world, whether they are living the complex life of the cities or struggling with nature in primitive agricultural settlements. Very few people live alone on a desert island, and even the hermits of the Himalayas need a disciple to bring them food. It is not only ‘not good’ for man to live alone, outwardly it is almost impossible.

    Normally we experience two kinds of community in the course of life. In the first people work and live together simply because that is where they find themselves. In the second they are united in a common aim to which all the members subscribe. The earliest community of which the child is aware as he awakens to earthly surroundings is that of the family, and although he has a deep sense of belonging, this is not based on any conscious choice of identity of interests, which may indeed be very different.

    Then follows the community of the neighbourhood, either of the street or the village, for children always know each other however indifferent their parents may be. They have one great advantage when it comes to this question of community: they are always interested in the fellow citizens of their world – other children. The purpose becomes all-important as soon as we come to the communities that the individual consciously seeks for himself. These consist of people with like interests. The teenager may join a youth club in order to find dancing partners, or a sports club in order to belong to a team.

    Difficulties only arise in any group when people are found to have quite different ideas about the aim for which they are gathered together, or are unable to agree on the way in which this aim is to be achieved. Those who work together should be united in the service of the firm or the factory, but this is usually secondary to the aim of earning their living by taking home a wage. How many are able to consider the people with whom they will have to work when they chose a job? They trust to luck, and if they find their fellow workers too unpleasant then the only thing to do is to look for somewhere else.

    There are of course many exceptions to the priority of the pay packet. For most workers in hospitals and schools, and in many working communities large and small, the first aim is the job well done. These people find their work satisfying. They tend to make friends among their fellow workers and to talk shop. These are the fortunate ones who have less need to find a balance to their working life outside it, among circles of people with similar hobbies.

    One form of community, however, caters for quite a different aspect of the human being – the needs of his soul and the problems of eternity. This is the religious community, the membership of a church.

    Why do people belong to a church? In grown-ups this can only arise out of free choice. Utilitarian interests are not normally served by going to church, although attending a particular church may have indirect results in social life. A religious community states its aims and many churches also lay down the rules by which they are to be realised. The honest member must be in agreement with these aims and, where there are rules, must be willing to keep them. He joins the church because he has recognised the purpose of the church as the aim for which he is striving, and believes that it may be more possible to attain it working with other people than alone.

    In a religious community in its strictest sense, the members also live together. They set themselves a high aim and extend the rules by which it is to be attained to include the whole of existence. Such rules may become very complicated over the course of time, and it would be impossible to carry them out except in a sheltered setting especially adapted to such a life. This close and constant contact with other people makes many demands, for it is a strange paradox of present-day human nature that physical nearness can produce spiritual separation. It is as if some inner need for freedom asserts itself. The body is present but the soul escapes.

    The opposite is also true. Where a real inner bond exists, then space and separation can be overcome. A modern religious community must be bound together by invisible ties. Ties of consciousness. These are not there automatically. They must often be renewed in thought and prayer. The writer of Revelation refers to the ‘angels’ of the several churches. It is the way in which people are united together in their consciousness that enables an angel to be present among them.

    The Christian Community has no statement of purpose in the form of a written body of dogma or a catechism, but the aims of the Community are clearly expressed in a number of different ways in the wording of the sacraments. To give one example from the Act of Consecration of Man. There the aim is described as ‘Walking with Christ’ and ‘Working from Christ’, and the sacrament is a means of attaining this aim. Naturally this represents the highest possible ideal, and the individual members of the Community can only make their own efforts and have sufficient trust in their fellow members to believe that they make efforts too.

    If we could even succeed in holding this aim more often before our consciousness we should not need to try and think up other ways of attaining community, it would come of itself. For the Christ, everyone is important and fully understood both in the gifts which they have and the difficulties against which they are struggling. If something can be attained first of all within the setting of a church and with the help of the sacraments, then the members of the community can spread their attitude to the rest of everyday life. The arm of the family, that smallest and most important unit of community, is to make a home, and the purpose of people working together is to do or make something worthwhile. On this basis we could build a happy and stable civilisation for the future.

    Find out more about the The Christian Community in the UK on their website here and discover the Perspectives Journal as it exists today here.

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