When I was first introduced to Charlotte Mason, just over a year ago, it didn’t take much to draw me in. As I began to consider her philosophy, I found myself letting go of many of the ideas and methods that had previously defined me as an educator. Despite my degree and my previous training, my beliefs about education began changing, and in turn, began changing me. In many ways, it was (and still is) a spiritual experience. I guess one might say I’m a convert of sorts.
As often happens after a conversion experience, I had a hard time keeping quiet. Charlotte Mason soon became a household name to my family and friends. Not only was I devouring as much information as I could get my hands on, I was talking about it. A lot.
I recently heard someone refer to this idea with language that has stuck with me. Lisa Cadora, in an email to CLUSA educators, expressed her desire to create a space where people could share about “how we are ‘evangelizing’ by connecting with souls in our communities who are hungry for ‘sane’ education.”
As the wife of a pastor and church planter, it’s no surprise that Lisa’s use of the word “evangelize” found a hook on which to hang itself in my mind. It immediately made me think about the process of starting Water City Church and the reasons we decided to take that path.
First and foremost, we felt called. Our lives had been transformed by the message of the Gospel and we wanted to share it, to create a space for others to come together and grow, and ultimately be changed by an encounter with Christ. This calling had led us both to pursue training. We invested time and energy into studying God’s Word and living it out as best we were able. Were we experts with all of the answers? Absolutely not. But we were willing.
Second, we recognized that we were on a faith journey of our own. We had not “arrived” by any means. We were traveling a road, and we wanted to invite others to join us — to walk with us, to grow with us, to be changed with us. We acknowledged the call to lead, but also the companionship on the walk.
Third, we were inspired. There was a shared dream and a vision that spurred us on and helped move us forward. We envisioned what this church could grow to be and how the Lord might use it to reach others with the message of Jesus.
What began six years ago around our dining room table boasted no building, no money, and only a handful of people who agreed to come along for the ride. But we began. We started down an uncertain path, determined to see where it led and invite others to walk it with us. Since, the church has grown, changed and blossomed. We are thriving as a faith community, and are making an impact for Christ in our local community.
I can’t help but compare this to the journey I’ve been on with Charlotte Mason the past year. Please don’t misinterpret the comparisons I’m making here as my saying that I believe Charlotte Mason to be divine in any way. I’m simply acknowledging the similarities between two personal experiences — both having led me to a deeper understanding of God’s Truth, of which He is the only source.
My CM “conversion” experience changed me, and caused me to make changes that impacted my children and my family for the better. I also realized that my children and I wanted — we needed — to continue learning and growing with others who could support and challenge us. As I searched for a community of like-minded people, I realized the community I was envisioning didn’t (yet) exist. But I believed it could.
Just like those first dreams about Water City Church, finding the CM community I desired began by gathering people around me. I started a book study, through which a handful of parents came together to read and discuss Mason’s six volumes. Next, I simply spoke my dream out loud: “Would any of you be interested in forming a Charlotte Mason co-op? One where we’d come together with our children and share the responsibility of preparing and teaching different subjects?” People were interested. All I did was ask. From there, we met as a group to flesh out what it would look like to begin this kind of co-op — a living education community. What was our purpose? What would we call ourselves? Where would we meet? How often? What subjects would we cover together?
Again, similar to church planting, we looked to those who had already blazed a trail for some of our inspiration. I’m so thankful for people like Nancy Kelly (sageparnassus.blogspot.com), Jennifer Stec (cminthebluegrass.weebly.com), and others like them who post and write about what they’re doing in their own CM communities. They have graciously shared so much and have provided a means for the rest of us to envision “what could be” in our own corners of the world.
Then came the exciting part: the point where we decided to begin. Did we have a plan in place? Yes, but not perfect. Were the kinks worked out? Not yet. We knew that would take time. Did we all feel an overwhelming sense of confidence in our own abilities? Were we “Mason experts”? By no means. But we were ready to step out and we were committed to a shared vision.
Six days from today our CM community, The Arbor Guild*, will gather for the very first time. We’ll come together at a small, historic schoolhouse in the country — just five families who have chosen more than a curriculum. We’ve chosen a way of life. One that we know will be richer when we share it with others. Will we stumble along the way? Absolutely. But we know that in the stepping out, in walking this road together, we will grow as persons, right alongside our children.
When something has changed you for the better, when it’s inspired you, when it’s breathed new life into an area that was stagnant, it’s destined to have an impact on those around you. Have you embraced a Mason education for your children? Have you been witness to positive change as a result of applying her methods? Are you in process, seeking to learn more and grow in this way of life? Are there people around you who are hungry for this “sane education” you’ve discovered? Why not start talking about it? Take a risk. Maybe there’s a dream inside of you, a vision for something that doesn’t yet exist — something that could be. Maybe it’s a support group or a book study. Maybe it’s a co-op. Maybe it’s a school. There’s no telling where your journey might lead if you keep walking forward, or how many may come along with you if you just ask them to join you.
*We chose the name “Arbor Guild” after stumbling on the term “plant guild” in a gardening publication about permaculture. “Guilding” is the act of intentionally placing plants to grow near each other so that they can help to provide for each other’s needs, creating a more healthy community of living organisms and resulting in less work for the farmer. This seemed like a fitting picture of what we hope to accomplish through our CM community – coming together as unique persons to grow and support each other.
© Amy Fiedler 2013