At the end of this month, my Co-Director Steven Bonsey will be retiring. Steven and I have worked in partnership at Wisdom & Money since we opened on January 1, 2017. Before we bless him on his way, I want to bring visibility to and appreciate what Steven has helped to create in this organization. The following reflection is my effort to do so! At the bottom of this page, there is an opportunity for you to offer a story or appreciation of Steven in the comments as well.
He said yes!
I first met Steven in February 2005 at a retreat for Wisdom & Money’s longest running circle, “The Boston Circle.” At that retreat, as Steven and I were comparing notes about traveling with young children, he told me that when he flew across the country with his children, he wore a kitchen apron. As a mother, I recognized the idea’s practical brilliance, but I could not quite picture myself moving through SFO donning a kitchen apron. This story was my first clue that Steven was not exactly the buttoned up priest that I had imagined him to be.
Fast forward a few years and the Boston Circle was in Putney Vermont at a retreat center called “A Place Apart.” One evening, I led a playful ritual that I called “The Abundant Breast Mamastery” during which I invited everyone to dress up as their inner monk. I cannot reveal details due to our practice of confidentiality, but suffice it to say this was another moment when I realized that Steven was not your typical “monk” either.
I am being playful, of course, in sharing these anecdotes. In truth, my early appreciation for Steven was rooted in my recognition that we were walking a similar intentional and playful path that included commitments to contemplative practice, social justice, theological reflection and a willingness to engage with money as a spiritual practice. In 2009, I asked him to consider joining me as Co-Director. Seven years later, he said yes.
Amplifier & visionary
During the transition from Harvest Time to Wisdom & Money, Steven joined our staff team and was tasked with helping us figure out how to “amplify” the work of Wisdom & Money. Our Board of Directors recognized that our first two circles had discovered something powerful about what was possible among people of wealth willing to engage with money as a doorway to spiritual transformation. We wanted to offer what we had learned more broadly, but we were wary of “scaling up,” seeing that our work is rooted in sustained spiritual practice and long-term relationships. How could we share our learnings without losing the heart of who we are? We asked Steven to help figure out what that could look like.
Steven stepped into his role with excitement, traveling the country at lightning speed, getting to know people and organizations that work at the intersection of money, spirituality, and social justice. Steven asked, “What is it that we offer that is unique and helpful – and how can we amplify that?”
Two years later, at an all-network retreat at Hallelujah Farm, Steven shared the key points of his vision for how to do so:
- Hold an annual introductory retreat
- Invite new partner organizations
- Invite new participants
- Enhance communication
- Introduce an intensive program model
- Increase financial support
He set the date of 2022 as his target time frame for moving toward these goals. Midway through that year, here is where we are:
Hold an annual introductory retreat
In early 2019, as Steven and I were planning a retreat, we came up with the idea to ask participants to share a personal money question or area of constriction on opening night. Then, instead of trying to figure out or solve these issues during the weekend, we spent the rest of the weekend in contemplative practice and reflection using the Be Present Empowerment Model.™ On Sunday, we were amazed at the insights that had been given through dreams, words of scripture or in listening to someone else’s story. Steven and I realized we had discovered a new model for introductory retreat.
A year later, when the pandemic stopped all travel, we shifted to offering this model virtually during retreats-in-place. To our surprise, the virtual offering resulted in many more people joining our retreats from all over the country and even the world. We now offer 2-4 introductory retreats each year, some of which remain virtual retreats while others take place in person.
Invite new partner organizations
When Steven was seeking to understand Wisdom & Money’s unique offering to the field of organizations working at the intersection of money, Spirit and social justice, he noted that our focus on practices that support root-level transformation and partnership is unique in the field of organizations working with money questions. With this clarity, Steven recognized the work of our long-term partner with Be Present, Inc.Ⓡ as vital to our mission and supported the entire Wisdom & Money organization in getting to know and deepening that relationship.
He also recognized Wisdom & Money’s resonance with the work of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), an organization founded by Father Richard Rohr that offers teaching and training in Wisdom theology and practices. Steven took the lead on building relationships with the staff at CAC and we are now grateful for the new friendships and spirit of mutuality that pervades our relationship with CAC. (And we are delighted that CAC Teaching Assistant Jon Hokama has joined our staff.) We are also thrilled to be one of CAC’s Movement Support Partners, gratefully receiving a grant to support our new Trailblazing Program (see below).
Invite new participants
In addition to an increase in participation due to the pivot to online retreats, hundreds joined our mailing list because of Wisdom & Money’s participation in CAC’s virtual CONSPIRE event last fall. Many of those new friends now regularly participate in our monthly gatherings and virtual retreats. In addition, some have formed a new committed retreat circle and already others have expressed interest in an additional circle.
In 2019 and 2020, Steven and I increased our writing for our blog, alternating months until Steven eventually took over much of the writing. Then in 2020, we hired Sawyer to write a Wisdom & Money book sharing stories from the Boston Circle and this year increased her role to Associate Director of Story and Strategy. Nadia also joined our team last year and is now Associate Director of Communications, Operations & Hospitality. Nadia and Sawyer presently lead our expanded communications, sending regular reflections to our growing email list and actively exploring ways to cultivate a more public audience through a forthcoming Wisdom & Money book and digital newsletter (coming soon).
Introduce “intensive program model”
Steven explored a variety of ways to offer intensive training in our practices in his early days. When he saw that our partnership with Be Present, Inc.Ⓡ offered a wonderful opportunity, he enthusiastically encouraged Wisdom & Money to partner with Be PresentⓇ in offering a jointly sponsored 18-month training. That program, The Trailblazing Institute, launched in April with 32 participants and is focused on practices that support inner transformation, partnership and social justice in a circle that includes diversity around age, race, religion, class, and gender.
Increase Financial Support
At our All-Network Retreat in 2018, Steven indicated that we would need to increase our financial support to manifest his vision for an amplified Wisdom & Money. He personally stepped into the flow of gift to help make that possible by offering financial gifts in partnership with his wife, Elisabeth. In addition, for the past few years, Steven has offered his service as Co-Director as gift; he works full time and does not take a salary.
He has also worked to invite others to support our work. If you have been to one of our retreats, you have no doubt heard him describe how powerful it was to him to step into his first retreat and hear that another circle had paid for it – as part of his invitation to retreatants to join in making a gift that makes it possible for others to experience our work. Steven has also led our relationship with the Judy Bork Charitable Trust, which has made grants to Wisdom & Money that have enabled us to increase our staff so that we can welcome new participants and be ready for Steven’s retirement.
Steven’s enthusiasm for the Wisdom & Money “business model” of Living in Gift is present even on the eve of his retirement; it was his idea to treat this moment as an opportunity to invite others into the flow of gift. This month, you will be hearing from Jon Hokama, our new Associate Director of Finance and Fund Development inviting financial gifts in honor of Steven.
I have taken time to bring visibility to Steven’s contribution to this organization because it is important to me to appreciate what he has made possible. We would not be where we are without the many, many gifts Steven has offered to this work. I am grateful for all of that.
And as Steven prepares to retire, I want to appreciate one last gift – his commitment to walking an honorable transition into retirement. Steven knew a long time ago that he was ready to retire and initially set the date at June 2021. But he revised that date and stayed fully engaged until he knew the organization was ready for him to step away. He worked hard to bring in new staff and has brought an abundance of “senior playfulness” to our staff team in recent months. I am especially grateful for Steven’s modeling of how to leave well.
Invitation to share
And now I invite you to join me in the celebration and appreciation. Please help me to fill in personal stories that go along with this high level organizational appreciation. At the bottom of this blog post, there is an opportunity to leave a comment. I invite you to share a favorite moment or something you are especially grateful for that Steven has offered. Please do so there.⇩
Thank you to Noa Mohlabane, Caroline Marvin and Sawyer Tracy for the photos on this page!