As I look back I now feel that the period from the December Retreat 2004 through to the Summer Teaching Retreat July 2005 has been a highly formative period for the Amida sangha. A range of developments that one can, with hindsight, see as having been gestating for some time, came to birth during that span of time. Decisions were made. Much of the fruit of this can be read in the document Provisions for Continuity and Structure. They include a cellular structure for the Order; provisions for the transition when the head of the Order (currently myself) goes; and the innovation of a completely new membership category called The Amida School.
Even more important than structure, there has been a palpable sense that the Order has reached some kind of critical mass, both in terms of numbers - twelve - and in terms of ethos. Now, whenever three or more Order members are present at an event there is a recognisable sense of team that was previously absent. The group is maturing.
Between the informal developments - ethos, sense of team - on the one hand and the formal elements such as constitutional arrangements, on the other, it is hard to say which leads to which. They seem to be symptoms of each other with no clear primacy in the chain of causation. Being part of this process certainly feels like an act of faith and it is faith that I think we have all really been learning about over this period. With faith, things are possible. Without it, it all becomes unthinkable.
Not only do these changes have a strong effect on the morale and sense of direction of the members of the Order itself, they also seem to affect the environment it exists in. Six people have already joined the School and we are currently seeing a sharp increase in interest in our work from enquirers who think they might want to participate. Whether this will result in more actual participants remains to be seen, as one of the effects of the new arrangements is not only to make what we do more attractive, but also to make admission to it more difficult.
Also, as the culture of the group strengthens it inevitably becomes harder to penetrate. When we are a very small group, a new-comer could, to some extent, negotiate their terms of entry. This never worked very well, but it was unavoidable. Now, the group is sufficiently stable that newcomers have to accept us as they find us - at least until they know the ropes. This increased stability has not, however, reduced flexibility. With more people we can do more things and more nuances in the way we do them are also possible.
Through all this, as we are a religious organisation, there has been a steady clarification in our doctrinal position and development of our practice. The point that I want to make in this slightly unsystematic article is that all these conceptually distinct strands do seem to evolve in parallel under a logic that is not easy to articulate but is quite readily discernible when you are in the midst of it.