The Thornhill Group of the Anthroposophical Society

The Thornhill Group of the Anthroposophical Society

by Richard Chomko (Group steward)

I’m writing this because people have been asking for more transparency around what the Thornhill Group is, what it does, how it works, and how it came into being. Briefly, the Thornhill Group is a recognized group of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada, formed in 2014 for the purpose of coordinating outreach among anthroposophical initiatives in the Thornhill area.

Groups and Branches

Any group of seven or more members of the Society can ask to become a recognized group of the Society, by making a request in writing, and having their request granted by the council of the Society in Canada, who then, as a courtesy, informs the executive council of the Anthroposophical Society (in Dornach). There can be any number of such groups in any given geographic area. 

Technically, the term “branch” has no special formal meaning in the Society context. The General Anthroposophical Society recognizes only “groups”. If some group wants to call itself a “branch”, that’s their free choice, but from the point of view of the Society, there are really only “groups”.

(Editors note: In the current Handbook from the Goetheanum concerning membership matters there is no reference to the need for seven members or more. No number is printed. Neither is there a reference to branches, only groups.)

Do we need another “Group” or “Branch” in Thornhill?

Due to the specific mandate that the existing Thornhill Group has set for itself, there could be a need for another group — perhaps one more focused on cultivating anthroposophical life among members. In this article we offer a survey of the history and activity of the Thornhill Group and entertain in more depth the possible need for another group in more depth.

Anthroposophical Initiatives in Thornhill

Thornhill, a northern suburb of Toronto, is home to perhaps the widest range of anthroposophical initiatives to be found anywhere in Canada — at least in a “bricks and mortar” sense. There’s the Toronto Waldorf School, Hesperus Village (an elder community), the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto (Waldorf teacher development), Arscura (school for living art), the church of the Christian Community, the Village Market (year-round Saturday-morning organic farmers market), the Paper Pipit (book and craft supply store), the Pegasus Medical Clinic, LifeWays Ontario, and the offices and library of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada, to name but a few. 

Thornhill and Toronto

Since the departure of Hamo and Brenda Hammond, some dozen or so years ago, there had been no recognized active local group (or branch) of the Anthroposophical Society in the Thornhill area, although, of course, there are a number of informal study groups, including some at Hesperus. 

And there is of course also the Toronto Branch, a recognized group, started in 2012,  which holds monthly meetings, hosts public events, and publishes a newsletter. Although that group is based in Toronto, members from Thornhill do sometimes attend their events, even though it’s often a hour drive to get to Toronto Branch meetings from Thornhill. 

Genesis and History

From its start the Thornhill Group was conceived as a different kind of anthroposophical group — focused not so much on events for members, as on coordination of outreach into the wider community beyond the people who were already members, or who already were involved in one or another of the local anthroposophical initiatives.

The group was founded in February of 2014. It was composed of members who were invited to join by Mark McAlister, who at the time, was also administrator of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada. 

From 2008 to 2011 — well before the founding of the Thornhill Group — Mark had been publishing a monthly email newsletter on his own initiative, titled “The Thornhill Campus Bulletin” in which he attempted to present various campus-based projects and initiatives in ways that could make them more accessible to a wider public. Many of the people Mark invited to join the Thornhill Group were people he had earlier interviewed for this newsletter. (Note: Mark’s newsletter went out to people Mark had made personal contact with in the wider community.)

In addition to these individual invitations, an open invitation to join was also extended to participants of the study group at Hesperus in which Mark was also participating at the time.

To form the group, a written request for recognition was drafted by Mark and signed by the founding members. The council of the Society then considered the request for recognition, and following their agreement, the Thornhill Group became a recognized group of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada.

And since this was now the only recognized group in the Thornhill area since the ending of the group that had been led by the Hammonds (Michael Branch, founded in June 2001), the restricted funds that had belonged to that group, within the account of the Society, were made available to the new Thornhill Group, for their work, by a decision of Antje Ghaznavi, supported by the council. Antje had been the steward for the Michael Branch.

Through his work on the newsletter and later with the group, Mark challenged the separate initiatives on campus to see themselves more as part of a campus-wide totality, with anthroposophy, the Anthroposophical Society, and the Thornhill Group as connective tissue.

Things started well with the group, but when it eventually became clear that the members of the group did not share Mark’s vision for taking things a step beyond where he had gone with the newsletter, Mark stepped back from his work with the group in 2016. Mark explains it like this:

“In retrospect, I feel my most important and innovative work was with the Thornhill Campus Bulletin (TCB).  My intention was to tell stories that set our work on the campus in a broader context.  Three recurring themes come to mind:

– Reburbia: Suburban life is the pits, so let’s do something about it.

– Acedia, I wrote several articles about how we are helping people to renew spiritual activity, and counter the ever-present influences of acedia, the original deadly sin of sloth.

– Community Investment. I posted a video targeting investors for the new Rutherford Village at Bathurst and Rutherford. I developed a story on the theme: there’s more to life than what you can find in a shopping mall, and invited readers to submit ideas for developing proposals to attract investment in the campus.

As I recall, when I stopped publishing the TCB in 2011, I had in mind the formation of a members’ group to take the next step. There were a couple of events (Social Sculpture is one that comes to mind) that really seemed to be moving in the right direction. However, it soon became clear to me that the others were reverting to a more internal focus, at which point I left the group. My decision was not related to difficulty scheduling meetings and coordinating activities – it arose from a difference of vision.”

Eventually, with expressions of renewed will from the remaining members, meetings started up again on an every-other-month schedule, and Regine Kurek was chosen as the new interim steward. Last year, in 2017 I was asked by the group to take over that role. The steward in this group is responsible for finances, communication with group members and chairing meetings.

Thornhill Group meetings typically start with a 20-30 minute study session (prepared and led by one of the members), followed by reporting on the state of initiatives from those members who are present, and then proceed to planning and coordinating future activities and promotions. We usually meet from 4-6 pm on a weekday, at the location of one of the member initiatives.

Who is Involved Now?

Since 2016, the remaining Thornhill Group members have met many times, especially around festivals, and co-ordinating the participation of various campus initiatives in special events, either with local talent or visiting guests. Here’s a current list of who we’re hoping to see at our next meeting in November 2018:

• Warren Cohen (Toronto Waldorf School)

• Kenneth McAlister (Pegasus Therapeutics)

• Regine Kurek (Arscura)

• Mary Warkentin (resident of Hesperus)

• Richard Chomko (Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto)

• Jef Saunders (Anthroposophical Society in Canada)

• Jonah Evans (Christian Community)

• Susan Richard (Local Anthroposophical Library, Anthroposophical Prison Outreach)

• Laurie Harper-Burgess (LifeWays Ontario)

• Linda Lee (Paper Pipit)

• Heather Church (Halton Waldorf School, formerly TWS)

• Brooke Scott (Village Market)

• Pina Corigliano (Hesperus)

Although the founding members of the Thornhill Group were all members of the Society, the current participants in the group meetings are no longer all Society members, as some of the people carrying initiatives in the area are not members, and we chose not to exclude them on that basis. Since 2014 there has been some turnover of members as people’s life situations change and new initiatives are included. Because of the nature of the group and its work, membership has mostly been by invitation.

What’s Been Done

The following is a partial list of the events and projects that the Thornhill Group has helped to organize and or sponsor in the Thornhill area:

2014 Mystery Drama preparatory workshops with Barbara Renold

2014 Tom and Deborah Ravetz workshops on Social Sculpture, Power and Love, etc.

2015 Signe and Chris Schafer: Biography, how does it serve community? — a collaboration between Arscura, Hesperus and the Society

2015 Joan Sleigh’s visit with talks and workshops

2015 Coordinating Bodo von Plato’s events during his visit

2016 Coordinating Robin Schmidt’s visit and talks

2015, 2016, 2017 Co-sponsor of TQuest Production of “The Portal of Initiation”

2017 Rainer Schnurre on Community building and the Threefold Social Organism, — a collaboration between Arscura, Hesperus and the Christian Community

2017 Co-sponsor of “This War is Not Inevitable” drama about Threefold Social Order

2017 Helping coordinate the Annual General Meeting conference in Toronto

2014 – 2018 Publishing a brochure summarizing local Michaelmas events

With the exception of the annual Michaelmas brochure, most of the events and sponsorships have not cost any money in the end, since revenues covered expenses in most cases.

Formal Mission, Vision and Values of the Thornhill Group

Last year we formalized the group’s mission, vision and values, as outlined below:

Mission

The Thornhill Group is a working together of anthroposophically-inspired initiatives for collaboration, outreach and community events.

Vision

The Thornhill Group is an association of anthroposophically-inspired neighbours who carry a shared belief that by making our collaboration, inspired out of anthroposophy, more visible, we forge a vibrant and perceptible presence for our campus that will help all of our organizations to better fulfill their missions of service, and leverage each of our strengths to help us stand more clearly as a force for positive change in the world.

Values

Our work will be guided and informed by our beliefs and commitments to:

– meeting bi-monthly

– collaboration

– facilitating channels of communication between each other and the world around

– fostering interdependence and informing of campus festivals

– co-ordinating various whole campus special events, both with local talent and visiting guests

Does this Kind of Group Exist Elsewhere?

According to Jonah Evans, there is a group with a similar purpose, which meets regularly to coordinate activities and outreach in Spring Valley, New York, which is an anthroposophical community with an even greater diversity of initiatives than is found in the Thornhill area. 

The Future of Anthroposophical Groups in Thornhill

With all the existing anthroposophical initiatives and activities taking place in the Thornhill area, is there still a need for anything beyond co-ordinated outreach (which is the specific role of the Thornhill Group)? Maybe there are other needs, which a members’ group could address. Let’s explore the question.

I would like to extend an invitation to any members of the Anthroposophical Society who see themselves as belonging to the Thornhill area and who would like to explore possibilities of maybe helping form such a new members’ group in the Thornhill area to address needs that are not being addressed by the existing Thornhill Group. Please contact me with your thoughts and ideas about what you would like a new Thornhill members’ group to be and do. If there is interest, we can arrange a meeting to discuss next steps.

Richard Chomko, rchomko@gmail.com, 905-237-6789