Margie Bruvel interviews retiring General Secretary, Jan Baker-Finch
Interview excerpts from the Journal of the Anthroposophical Society in Australia, July 2020
Jan Baker-Finch served as Co-General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Australia with Peter Glasby for three years, before his untimely death in 2013, then for seven years solo. For Jan, the defining theme of the years in this role has been encounters with people, but has also seen a shift in direction from the leadership at the Goetheanum. In these interview excerpts, Jan discusses the changes she has witnessed and her new initiative, Pacifica College of Eurythmy.
Margie: Where do you see the role of the Goetheanum and the impulses coming out of it as a centre of the General Society, in the context of the international scene of to- day’s turbulent world?
Jan: It’s an interesting question. Over the nine years of attending meetings there, I have witnessed quite major changes at the Goetheanum. Structurally there has been all the main hall restoration work, the reshaping of the entrance, reception and cafeteria areas, the re-opening of the terrace, which had been closed for so many decades, and the development of the park with the reintroduction of grazing animals. All these developments have made the building more accessible and visitor friendly. Simultaneously, I have seen huge changes in the leadership members, and style. Experiencing the Executive Council and the Section Leaders as they slowly came together to forge the joint Goetheanum Leadership group despite all the resistance and doubts of many conservative voices has been quite an inspiration. I believe they model a genuine endeavour to embody socially mature, collaborative processes which shape a truly contemporary organisation, something I imagine Rudolf Steiner would be pleased to see.
They work hard to strengthen the Sections, even in these financially difficult times, and are now running inter-section events, which connect audiences across disciplines and ages, and again meet a contemporary need for integration – for example of arts and sciences, biodynamic farm- ing and youth section work (which draws huge numbers) and more.
There is also a growing shift towards working with mainstream researchers, rather than in isolation/opposition, such as in the medical field, for example, on the theme of fever. The newly formed Goetheanum Association is also building wider networks intersecting with many organisations that are aligned with anthroposophy even if they do not emanate from it. These activities will, I believe, overcome aspects of the Society which can be alienating, seem cultish and inward looking, and will radiate outward in a generative way be- cause the anthroposophy out of which they grow is serving – and can be seen to be serving – purposefully and accessibly in the world.
Margie: What are your hopes for the Australian Society as it transitions into the post-Jan era?
Jan: Haha! I’m not sure there was a “Jan era!” What would I love to see happening now? On a purely functional level – I think it is time for a more widely shared carrying of initiatives within the Society and, to support that, the development of good collaborative, transparent processes, supported, for example, by all the contemporary tools the internet offers, and by introducing some paid roles, as we still lack these. And on a visionary level . . . to be frank I am not sure. I have often said “society” in our context is a verb, not a noun. Society happens when people who are grateful for the profound gifts of anthroposophy connect, undertake initiatives together, create moments and spaces where nourishing deepening spiritual work can take place. Maybe as the structural and functional renewal happens some new “society-ing” will take shape too, and a consequence of that might be renewed, mutually uplifting connection with the many initiatives that now exist. I do not think our Society can really exist just for itself.
Margie: Was there a particular highlight of your “career” as General Secretary?
Jan: Yes, the Life and Living Conference held at Tocal College in the Hunter Valley in 2017. The impulse was to reach out to people in every way we could think of, and imbue every aspect of the event with a conscious, inclusive life-affirming (for that to my mind IS the essence of anthroposophy) intention – from the smallest details up to the grand gesture of having not one but four keynote speakers (Orland Bishop, through visa issues was unable to come). We definitely over-reached ourselves, but even three years on, people still tell me the conference sparked something new for them – and I have seen how it stimulated a whole range of initiatives. I confess to being fairly proud of that event and the whole team who worked on it.
Margie: Can we end with a few words about your current endeavour, Pacifica College of Eurythmy? Is this a long-standing dream of yours and your co-workers? Do you think your work as General Secretary has helped put wind under the wings of this wonderful initiative – I mean in the sense you’ve been more in a position to have a bird’s eye view of what the world needs to prepare for a future where soul nourishment becomes a priority?
Jan: I am certain these years in the GS role taught me much that is now serving in this new endeavour. Even something as simple as understanding the value of having a good organisational constitution! Yes, it is a long-standing dream, although I always intended to support my colleagues, not initiate a college myself. That said, it is through and through a collective endeavour. We want to establish a college that will outlive us, is financially viable, will help place eurythmy firmly on the cultural map in our region as it becomes better understood, integrated and more widely accepted as an art form, as a deeply effective pedagogical tool, and as a therapeutic medium. Perhaps the drastic impact of the pandemic will stimulate a longing for soul nourishment – if so we want to be ready to respond!(Interview excerpts with kind permission of Margaret Bruvell and Mark Gallagher)