Community or Conference?

Northfield: Conference or Community? An important discussion

Over the course of several Planning Meetings this year, a recurring topic of discussion has come up and led to fascinating discussions. The Executive Committee now wants to include all members of our organization in the conversation. It is not clear that this discussion leads to any particular changes. But we LOVE that this is being talked about, and perhaps it results in a better understanding of what Northfield is, and why it is important to so many of us.
Below are two points of view for you to consider. These attempt to summarize what was discussed this year. We would love to hear your thoughts on this debate, you can use the comments field at the bottom, and we will collect the comments and make them available to everyone in the near future.
Why We Are Better Off Calling Ourselves “The Northfield Conference”
  1. We honor our history and traditions by keeping the conference appellation
  2. Conference is welcoming to Newcomers, community sounds like emotional commitment. 
  3. Being welcoming to newcomers is very important to us, for philosophical reasons and to maintain the size and health of the organization
  4. Conference helps us to not be thought of as a “cult.” Even we know that we are not a cult, we want to avoid that thought for new people
  5. We only are together for one week per year, which is more like a conference. Community sounds year-round and residential
  6. We offer a packed schedule of programming like a conference would
  7. For all those reasons, calling ourselves a conference is important, even if we “secretly” think of ourselves as a community
Why We Are Better Off Calling Ourselves “The Northfield Community”
  1. underlying our programming, we are a community: caring and constant and people-oriented 
  2. we clearly are NOT a cult, there is not a singular communal ethos or authoritarian leader
  3. Conference implies highly professional programming, which we achieve often but not always.
  4. Community allows for experimenting and forgiveness: a process orientation
  5. Conference implies “fee for service” rather than the extreme level of volunteerism that we absolutely depend upon
  6. Conference implies that the programming content is our focus, community is about people
  7. We are increasingly a year-round operation, with MidWinter, the well-attended planning meetings, various internet communication tools, etc. That makes us a non-residential and very vibrant and connected community
  8. For all those reasons, it is better to name what we are accurately, and work to communicate what that means in ways that are authentic and inviting – which is after all, exactly what we are all about

12 thoughts on “Community or Conference?

  1. Conference… Community makes it seem like a permanent year round thing that you have to commit to. Conference is what it is… I am part of the community but I attend the conference.

  2. How about Northfield Community Conference. We are all of the above from the aspect of both an ongoing community, open to and welcoming and active soliciting others as well a conference with the opportunity to learn new skills and information within a community approach. Each year we form a new and slightly different community from that of other years because some people are missing from before and some new people have joined us. We are certainly more than a conference established to learn about a particular theme. What we learn most about at this “conference” I think is how to be a part of a community. Sometimes it’s harder than others! I think of Northfield as a place to refill my “bucket” in order to do all the other things I do in my life as well as a place to learn new skills and meet new people, who are sometimes “old” people I never got to know well before. To say that Northfield is a community conference makes it a lot easier to explain to others and I never thought of this before. There is no need to think of a community as being a closed community–a real community is forever growing and changing.

  3. I’m OK with ” the Northfield Conferenece” . The 1st entry in the American Hertiiage Dictionary: “A meeting for consultation or discussion. Another entry:”In various protestant churches, an assembly of clerical and lay members from a particular district.” This harkens back to the founding character of the gathering.
    Perhaps “The Northfield Conference” w/ a by-line that says something like .”Building Community” or some such inclusion of the word community..

  4. “A rose by any name….”. The reason most of us keep coming is that we feel we are a community, but to get that feeling, you have to experience Northfield. My experience is that most new attendees come because they know a member of the community. To me, what you call it is not significant. Practically, I’m under the impression that a name change would require raising our profile with the Secretary of the State where we are registered, which might be complicated and could cost money.

  5. We could retain the same name Northfield Conference and call the week the Northfield Community Conference. Then we wouldn’t have to do an official name change with all the complications it causes.

    • Here is my understanding, related to Roger and Nancy’s comments. I believe that our only official name, by which the IRS knows us, is “The Northfield League.” Although the reason for that name has come and gone, we are keeping it for the reasons that Roger explained. Whether we call ourselves a Conference or Community or Community Conference matters for our self identity, our tee shirts, our website, and our common language of what we say we are. I don’t think it affects our legal status.

  6. I think I agree with Nancy…Northfield Community Conference seems to capture the experience. I think Northfield Community is misleading and overstates the experience for many folks who love the conference and come yearly but do not participate throughout the year.

  7. I like “Northfield Community Conference.” I keep going back to the realization that when we meet in June, we are not an “event” (conference) in the traditional sense, we are a “process experience,” during that week. Our process is building opportunities for community while we’re together. However, keeping the “conference” word in our “event” at least for now in these transitional times, feels like a stepping stone to keep on the path as we go towards this vision. For the newcomer, it provides a structural container that can feel safer to enter the first time.
    And we all know how that first time coming to NField, is important in what is offered and how some structure helps folks land somewhere definable.

  8. After reading through the “points of view”, I had an “aha” moment at Nancy Ramsden’s proposal. A perfect solution to the “problem”!

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