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Long Stewardship

Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers

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T.I. #104, Fall ’92. The Steward’s Council never really jelled as a group, alas, although its members made valuable contributions as individuals. They came on board when the pace of change was already so great that there was no time for them to catch up and join the thought processes. The kinds of problems outlined in this column are still real, though, and still warrant consideration at all levels of the Society....


My cousins, seven years ago I took on the Stewardship of the Society. That’s a number with a ring to it, and I once thought this might be the quarter to bid you farewell. However, I’ll be holding the fort a while longer. The job itself and the whole central management of the Society are in such an exciting state of flux that I couldn’t bear to leave now—which is just as well, since my designated successor has decided the office doesn’t fit into her life at this time.
     The Board and I have been reviewing the Society’s structure for over a year, and have already taken some steps to adapt it to the demands it faces. Very little of the process has had any impact on the kingdoms, and it probably won’t have much visible effect there, because a major goal is to preserve the essential flavor of the Society for its members. However, we’ve enhanced the role of the Steward as staff coordinator, and are working to build bridges among the offices and develop cooperative plan­ning and problem-solving. We’ve also begun to increase the amount and variety of information about the Society that is available to the membership. These measures have boosted the workload at the Steward’s office to well above a full-time job.
     The Steward’s Council announced in your August newsletters is designed in part to get my workload back within range of a person with a life to live. (I can put in sixty-hour weeks for a while, but not indefinitely!) In addition, the members of the Council will be working as individuals and as a group to develop ways of coping with the explosive growth of the Society.
     Runaway growth is what is driving the re-evaluation process. I’ve addressed it before (in T.I. #97) with what now seems like mild and cautious concern. Though we didn’t reach the 19,000-member level projected in 1990 for the end of that year, we were over 21,000 by the end of 1991—and I don’t even want to guess where we are as you read this.
     During my tenure as Steward, Society membership has more than doubled, and we have two new kingdoms, four new principalities, and well over a hundred new branches. However, we’re still doing things in much the same ways—indeed, there isn’t all that much difference from the way things were done when I was Treasurer in the late ’70s, when we had only a third as many kingdoms and branches and less than a sixth the membership we have now.
     All the kingdom and local officers and most of the members working for the SCA as a whole are still volun­teers, who choose their own hours and set their own priorities for what they do. The kingdoms still exist in a state of dynamic tension between royalty and civil service, bound together by shared goals and assumptions no matter how fierce the disputes of the moment may be. The system is still immensely productive—things happen when they should, money appears when it’s needed, news spreads swiftly and with amazing accuracy, beautiful artifacts made by loving hands adorn our events. There’s still room to try anything—to explore the arts peaceful and martial, to play at events and to get behind the scenes and help run them, to develop skills ranging from the lightest of acquaintance to the height of craftsmanship and to draw pleasure from whatever level is attained.
     The Current Middle Ages are still a grand time to be alive. Unfortunately, they are showing signs of strain. At all levels, it’s getting harder and harder to recruit officers. You’d think the increased population would make the search easier, but the jobs are so much more work due to that same population growth that fewer and fewer people are both willing and able to take them on. It’s also getting harder and harder to control and allocate resources. Back when we had no money, there was no money to worry about or fight over; if you wanted to do something, you did it and you paid for it—or gave up the idea. Now there are communal funds that might be used, and we’re discovering that riches are far from an unmixed blessing. And some of the key experiences of the Known World are getting further and further out of reach of the bulk of the membership—if there are two thousand fighters in a kingdom, what proportion can enter the Crown Lists, let alone hope to win? If there are four hundred members in a barony, what proportion can serve as local officers or autocrat events? If we just grow and don’t plan, we may well collapse under our own weight—or (and perhaps worse) we may drift so far into bureaucracy that we lose the direct access to each member’s talents that made the Society so effective in its first quarter-century.
     You may think we’re over-bureaucratized now, but believe me, we’ve barely touched the edges of the morass of rules and forms that human groups are prey to. We really have managed to build something new in the world. If we want to keep what we’ve got—to maintain the spontaneity of our events and branches without foundering on tasks undone and resources misspent—we need to decide what is most important about the Society as it is. We need to analyze the Society’s structures and jobs at all levels, and figure out how to retain our character as our membership and branch lists double and redouble again.
     The key point to remember is not how big we’ve grown, but how small we still are compared to our potential appeal—all of us together wouldn’t fill a modest football stadium, and all our local branches worldwide wouldn’t surpass the number of scout troops in a single medium-sized state. If we want our hundred-thousandth member to find the same freedom to grow and learn in the Society that we found when we joined, we need to do some serious work now.
     The Steward’s Council will be charged with the job of helping the SCA plan to meet the new millennium. We’ll be looking at the corporation (how we allocate work and share information in the modern side of the SCA) and at the way the corporate level works with the kingdoms, and also at the kingdom and branch structure. We have a mandate to look at anything, with no unaskable questions and no unthinkable thoughts. We won’t need to try every possibility, but we owe it to ourselves to try to figure out what the possibilities are.
     You can help. While it’s probably too late to apply for one of the initial spots on the Council, openings will continue to appear from time to time. If you missed the 15 September filing deadline noted in the August newslet­ters but would like to be considered later, please write to the Chairman of the Board, and send a copy of your letter to me.*

     In the meanwhile, give some thought to the Current Middle Ages as they should have been—or as they should be a decade from now—and write to the Corporate Secretary* to share your insight. One of the members of the Steward’s Council will be assigned the task of coordi­nating the planning project, and the Corporate Secretary will see that your letter reaches the proper hands.
     The Council will be working at first to identify questions and concerns, and later to weave together ideas that might be worth exploring in practice. It may well be a year or more before anything formal is presented for comment and review by the membership and the Board, but the process is important to our survival. We need to identify our strengths and values so we can preserve them, and move, not backwards into a crumbling future, but truly forward into a past we can cherish and welcome.

*All the Society officers’ addresses appear inside the front cover of each issue of Tournaments Illuminated, along with the Directors and the Kingdom Seneschals.

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