A Meaningful, Multiplied Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving! Part 1: Backstory

SUMMARY. I returned Tuesday from a trip to London to celebrate a milestone Thanksgiving with the good people of Matryoshka Haus – which has been both a community and a non-profit, founded 16 years ago by Shannon Hopkins. I’ve been associated with them since early on, and served as an archivist, editor, and interactor.

I’m blogging a short series about this unique organization, which was awarded a “Traditioned Innovation” designation from Duke University in 2018, in recognition of their significant contributions to making a difference through social transformation entrepreneurship.

MHaus leaders invested 2019 in discerning their way forward as an organization, adopting some crucial choices that opt for an agile institution that can last beyond two generations, instead of orbiting around past forms leading to fragile institutionalization. Part 1 shares their backstory, Part 2 about the milestone process, and Part 3 about choosing multiplication, not division; and specialization, not separation.

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In my work as a futurist, I sometimes share a definition of an institution as being “an organization that lasts beyond two generations.” That means the organization’s legacy outlives its founders. What does it require, for that to be a positive?

The current members must provide enough flexibility and freedom for their “spiritual grandchildren” to discern their own cultural times and how to adapt the purpose, mission, and vision for impact in their own generation.

The alternative to growing into this kind of institution is to become institutionalized – inflexible, circling around the past instead of moving into the future. Unfortunately, too many organizations remain on that pathway instead of choosing a forward trajectory. It results in their losing agility and instead developing fragility.

Thankfully, the Matryoshka Haus non-profit team paused in 2019, investing much of its energy into considering the organization’s past and present, so they could find the optimal way forward. Their process gives me confidence they’ll continue their dynamic impact through relating, advocating, consulting, producing social entrepreneur tools, and more. Meanwhile, the London community that birthed this non-profit continues to evolve and is finding its way forward as well.

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  • Part 1: Backstory to a Forward-Looking Community, and Evolving from One to Three
  • Part 2: Recollections from the Celebration
  • Part 3: MHaus and To Be Announced …

Wishing all y’all a meaningful Thanksgiving Thursday! I already had a T-day, actually, this past Sunday in London. I was a guest at the 16th annual Matryoshka Haus “Britican/Ameritish Thanksgiving” celebration. It was wonderful to be there with the MHaus community to mark a year of transitions for them, and to look forward to new things that were evolving.

Change involves both losses and gains, and this year represented an extraordinary level of change for both the Matryoshka Haus community and the non-profit ministry organization. More about that in a bit … but thought I’d share some first-hand history on the origins of this extraordinary gathering of people.

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BACKSTORY TO A FORWARD-LOOKING COMMUNITY

Matryoshka Haus Journeying Along the Way [Photo by Steve Eyre, 24 November 2019.]

Signs on the Way: Belonging *  Life Together * Meaning * Imagination * Purpose * Action

Being in London made me think back to how long I’d been connected with Shannon Hopkins, the Matryoshka Haus founder. (Matryoshki are those series of Russian dolls that are nested inside one another, and Matryoshka Haus represents the many related people and projects that flourish within the larger MHaus community and organizations.)

Sixteen years ago today, November 27, 2003, I was sitting at the huge dining room table to enjoy a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner with all the housemates of our just-moved-in residential community in Austin, Texas. There were eight of us – Erika, Jessica, Lora, Nathan and Amy, Shannon, Stacy, and me – along with Abigail The WonderDog and Mooshka The AmazingCat, and a few guests.

Shannon had catalyzed this group from a combination of long-time friends and a few who were relatively new to her relational network. It had taken several months for everyone to get their former apartments cleaned up and closed out, and get moved into the huge house we’d rented for the next 10 months (5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 living rooms, 1 wall-to-wall computer room, and a laundry room). We’d looked forward to living life in community and were glad to have a time to celebrate our transition into becoming a household!

Shannon’s kind of a convener and encourager – a sort of “network hub person.” It’s no surprise that at our Thanksgiving meal, she facilitated a time for us all to share three things we were particularly grateful for in 2003. (For me, it was finally getting moved in and unpacked, sapphire digging with my brother in the summer, and an opportunity to focus on writing my own resource materials.) Helping get people connected and starting something new were roles I’d already seen Shannon play several times in the two years since we’d met, and that I’d see repeatedly in years to come. They’re hallmarks of who she is.

As I’d soon discover, another hallmark of Shannon-ness is something I’d call “faithful transitioning.” She consistently turns over leadership of projects or campaigns or communities to others who have the passion for it. And if/when she senses the Lord moving her on to something or somewhere else, she goes wherever led next, while keeping connected with past people and projects.

Three months after our household’s Thanksgiving, Shannon shared that she was sensing she needed to go to the UK. I remember her saying something along the lines of, “I don’t know exactly where I’m supposed to go or what I’m supposed to do when I get there. I just know I need to go. They’re at least a generation ahead of us when it comes to figuring out postmodern, post-Christendom culture and we need to learn from them.” She’d been one of the main forces behind the WabiSabi event in April 2003, and over a dozen Brits from Sheffield had come over to participate.

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EVOLVING FROM ONE TO THREE, AND STILL A COMMUNITY

And that is how and when the Matryoshka Haus community and eventual U.S. non-profit began. (I know it’s confusing that the same name has been used for both entities. That’s just the way it unfolded, but some new names are forthcoming that will help clarify the situation.) Origin stories are important, because that is where seeds for the future get planted. That same “cultural DNA” Shannon embodies for integrating relationship connections and social transformation activities is infused throughout MHaus – both the community and the non-profit organization.

It’s been a significant 16 years of growth – definitely messy at times, but what community or enterprise or movement doesn’t have those moments? How we respond when things don’t go as hoped becomes part of the milestone to remember, just as much as when the impact for change that we imagined does come to fruition.

A Story of Faith and Social Innovation

While overcoming jet lag during my time in London, I reread sections from Matryoshka Haus: A Story of Faith and Social Innovation. This MHaus history was sparked by David Odom, a professor at Duke Divinity School, and it provides a substantial track record of 13 projects initiated in the first 15 years and what drove them, problems addressed and lessons learned, questions that emerged and how those influenced next projects. We’d all benefit from absorbing four key principles learned along the way:

  1. Time: Suspend your line of sight and become resilient – steadfast and enduring, despite challenges.
  2. Enough: Live out of a theology of abundance instead of scarcity; wrestle with what it means to have “enough.”
  3. Relationships: If you get everything else right, but you get relationships wrong, then you have gotten everything wrong.
  4. Work and Play: Forming relationships together through common causes for the common good, and a shared common ground will evolve.

This unusual community has grown in the kinds of projects it undertakes. Like the Russian nesting dolls, each new project has the contours of the originating Matryoshka Haus DNA, but takes on a slightly larger form that contains all the earlier, smaller versions. That larger Matryoshka is now well-formed, colorful, full of individual stories and community backstory.

Likewise, the non-profit that has been parallel to the community has evolved. I shared earlier about how “faithful transitioning” is a hallmark of who Shannon is. It is also part of the core substance of the Matryoshka Haus organization. I’ve seen this grow over time, as I’ve been part of the extended network journeying alongside the non-profit since its inception, contributing along the way by archiving its history, co-authoring resource materials, and editing and/or co-developing grant proposals.

The time came in 2019 for the Matryoshka Haus organization to evolve – spin forward into new directions – rather than just revolve by continuing to orbit around what it used to be. It was crucial to do this, to set sail into the next season.

I admire the leadership team – Shannon Hopkins, Andy Schofield, Mark Sampson, and Cathers Pearson – for slowing down, assessing where things had been, and discerning best directions for the future. They brought in a great guy, Mark Mayhew, to help them navigate the probable changes and narrow down all the various possibilities to the most preferable course of actions. This sifting and shifting process took most of the year. The way I see it, this was a strategic investment for multiplied social impact, not mere spending of time and resources.

The adjustments are still unfolding, but the essential elements are clear. The Matryoshka Haus community continues through ongoing personal relationships and social transformation projects that result from those connections. Meanwhile, the Matryoshka Haus non-profit is multiplying from one organization into three.

Because the reorganizing is still underway, it’s difficult to describe with precision. I think metaphors help visualize the overall picture of what it is, and maybe the best metaphors come from images of family. The MHaus community was the nest where the MHaus non-profit organization was birthed and grew – layer after layer of learning from project after project. It turned out that this was not just one single entity; there were triplets emerging. Those three eventual siblings share most of the same MHaus core:

The purpose to make a positive difference in the transformation of individuals and society.

A mission to reach post-moderns and creatives in particular, while bridging the gaps between people of different generations, cultures, and mindsets

A vision to embody Kingdom values as change-makers, and to measure what matters in terms of transformation, seeing how these amplify the goal of doing good.

I’ve experienced organizational splits before – this is not that. This is not a division, where everyone goes their separate ways – but a multiplication from shared DNA, with each sibling engaging in some specialized work. The leaders are all still connected relationally, it’s just that the teams have grown enough and time to be on their own parallel pathways.

I’ve experienced closures of communities and organizations – this is not that either. This is not a closing down, but an opening up. It’s a morphing, an evolution, an adaptation to meet the future head-on instead of getting stuck in past methods and models – as good as they had proven to be. This can be traced in the MHaus history book to show their track record of reflecting on experiences, critiquing the impact, and consolidating the learnings for the next round of activity. Fresh questions from each project or campaign contribute to the formation of more current processes and methods in the follow-up activities.

Trying to stay just one organization for the sake of convenience or continuity when there were clearly some emerging specialized callings would mean institutionalization for Matryoshka Haus as an organization. Trading agility for fragility could well have meant its eventually demise. But, gladly, the vulnerability of the leadership to undergo such a difficult and rigorous review gives me confidence in the integrity and resilience of the three sibling organizations! And the relationships among organization leaders and community members feels strong.

Of course, changes involve accepting both losses and gains, and that creates stress, but hopefully not duress. In Part 2, I’ll share some recollections from the London Thanksgiving celebration 2019, and the process of marking this milestone in the ongoing journey together. In Part 3, I’ll share more details about the matryoshki siblings when it’s time for those to be made public.

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You can follow the work of Matryoshka Haus at these links:

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4 thoughts on “A Meaningful, Multiplied Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving! Part 1: Backstory

  1. The purpose to make a positive difference in the transformation of individuals and society.

    A mission to reach post-moderns and creatives in particular, while bridging the gaps between people of different generations, cultures, and mindsets

    A vision to embody Kingdom values as change-makers, and to measure what matters in terms of transformation, seeing how these amplify the goal of doing good.
    __________

    I remain deeply cynical – but hopefully you make some lifetime friends.

    • You’re welcome — and thank you, EB. You are one of the lynchpin people who connected out-of-the-box ministry entrepreneurs and other leaders at a crucial time in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many of those connections continue to this day, and have yielded a lot of positive fruit!

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