A friend related being on a committee that is discussing merger of congregations into a single larger group. They had been at this conversation for decades, and this committee is another iteration of it. Each time they come to a decision point, they're told, "this is our last chance to make this decision - then it will be too late." So they decide not to merge, and a few years later, they have another round and again, people say, it is our last chance to make this decision - then it will be too late.... and on it goes. So this year again, at a general chapter, they decided not to merge, but to continue talking and see what emerges.
Some of the proposals have one governance structure, and each of the previous congregations would have an administrator in charge of housing, healthcare, cars, and the daily lives of the sisters in each of the traditional congregational centers. But the congregational identity would be no more. They have written a 50-60-70 year story together - or "80 for those who are strong". And they will no longer gather as a congregation, no longer come together to meet, greet, and catch-up, gather, pray and ponder together this life and mission they share, no longer write a common story. What a loss.
My friend had a dream which she shared.
In the dream, I was being asked to move - no, I was being moved to a central community. The sisters said they would pack everything for me.She realized that in their conversation, they never talked about identity. They talked about a stronger central identity, but they never talked about local identity and about forums for the continued life and mission among those they have lived with all these years.
When I arrived, they had my clothing and personal items.
"Thanks," I said, still dazed from the move. "Where are my books?"
"Oh, don't worry," came the reply, "We have books here. You don't need your books, we got rid of them. Many were old and marked up, full of notes on scraps of paper and pictures and poems. Don't worry, we have books here."
"My prayer journals? The books I've prayed with for years? The poems I've written? The photos I've taken? The books given to me by the author, with a personal note? Did you save any of them? How do we get them back?"
"Don't worry, honey" came the answer, in a genuine attempt at comforting me, "We have books here."
In my work with communities around the country, the most common reason that communities don't merge is because they want to retain their identity. They want to find a way to continue to live their mission together, realizing the need to collaborate for mutual support as the community ages and gets smaller.
They are looking for ways to keep their books, to continue to reverence the stories, the prayers, the poetry they have written together.