on the Dedicated Life
Water of Life
by Michael Maasdorp
When Sheila Pritchard visited an outback cattle station in the
north of Australia, she was struck by endless miles of country without a
fence in sight. She asked the rancher how this could be and was told,
"Out here we dig wells instead of building fences" 
The lesson was simple. In a land where water is crucial to life,
cattle will be attracted to a well. They learn to stray no more than a
certain distance from their source of life.
During recent Chapter discussions [in April, 2006] about membership,
I couldn't help recalling this story. It seemed to me that as we
wrestled with the matter we might be
missing an absolutely critical issue.
We were debating whether or not an Associate Member who is married
could become a full member of the Society. That would require changing
our Constitution, which says where the fences and gates are, and who may
come through them. And, of course, constitutions generally say nothing
about how to dig wells and fill them with water.
What, I asked myself, would happen to SSM if we
ceased focusing on fences and instead put our energy into being a well
of living water?
I couldn't help thinking of the prophetic vision of some decades ago
which tried to establish a forerunner to what is now the Well at Willen
[at Milton Keynes, England] - a vision based on the same principle as the Australian outback ranch.
Alas, that vision perished when fearful members of the Society hastily built fences against female
But, as any farmer knows, fences must be vigilantly
maintained. As those inside the fences died off, fewer were available to
replace fence posts and repair broken wire. So those fences have since fallen and women may now be full
members of the Society. And still we're in what appears to be terminal
The lesson is clear, I think. Merely taking down fences isn't enough.
Unless we also offer the water of life there is no intrinsic reason why
anyone should be attracted to us.
The matter can be put another way. I have witnessed many a discussion
about poverty, celibacy and obedience. A constant theme is that they are
essential to the religious life proper. I suspect that this may not be
entirely correct. Perhaps we might ask if they are in truth means to an
end, rather than ends in themselves.
Poverty as not knowing where your next meal will come from is not an attractive state. Nor is it intrinsically
attractive to be celibate unless one has little or no sex drive. Obedience
as absolute obedience to some authority or other only
alienates, as SSM and other communities have
discovered to their cost .
In short, who in their right mind would be
attracted to these three counsels? They are dry wells. Rules to protect them are like
fences which define who is in and who is out. They are designed to repel
outsiders and control insiders. I suspect that we in SSM
have been myopically focused for many years on fences rather than on
wells of living water.
Never far from the surface of everything Herbert Kelly [the founder
of SSM] said and wrote
was the conviction that the religious life is about giving oneself - not
about poverty, celibacy and obedience. With
typically Victorian expression, for example, he thought that
"really fine chap" and a "rotter" differ in that
… a fine chap is one who has found a purpose worth living for,
or worth dying for. The higher that purpose is, and the more wholly
he gives himself to it, the finer man he will be …" 
He stressed over and over again that the measure of our effectiveness
is, and always will be, the measure of our giving. Poverty, celibacy and
obedience are ways of giving up, not the giving up itself.
To revert to the metaphor of a well, it doesn't matter much if the
well has a fine setting, or if it is sturdily built, or if those who
tend it are properly qualified. Such a well no doubt attracts passing
tourists who will contribute their pennies.
What really matters is that
a well contain water.
 Digging Wells or Building Fences, 1994
 No Pious Person, Faith Press, 1960