New members are a gift, and hard work
A spike of interest — this is our current state! At this time, our community has six women in initial monastic formation, and two more who are set to join them within the next few months. Their presence is both a great blessing and a source of unexpected anxiety for me!
Every Wednesday and Sunday at the end of Evening Praise we recite "A Prayer for Vocations." In it we are grateful for our own vocation, we ask for the awakening of the Spirit that those who are seekers to our manner of life may hear their call clearly — and we pray that we may uphold them in their search as we have been upheld in ours.
As we are experiencing this upswing of interest in our life, I often smile to myself and say to my friends, "We have been praying this prayer for a few years now. These must be the women we've been praying for!"
There are two primary avenues through which these new members initially find us. The most common is through our website. Another way is through a friend or spiritual director suggesting us to them. "I think you should look into this group. They seem to be spiritually and philosophically just like you." And to the website they go, also. Here they can read and browse for months.
Then they make a contact, and then another and another. Finally they come to visit, go home, come to visit again, go home and visit again. After numerous conversations, a load of paperwork, and the mutual decision that this is a call worth pursuing, they turn their lives upside down. This is not just figuratively, when you count leaving a job, home, daily friends and contacts, and the rhythm of their adult life to relocate in a little town where they know very few people. Upside down indeed!
These eight women are an average age of 47. They have a variety of backgrounds and adult experiences (both personal and in their careers), but they will now be attempting to meld together into a like-minded faith group to foster, enliven and engage in this life with us. In other words, they are just like we are — except that with our 25-50 years of experience in the endeavor, it's a bit more manageable for us than for someone coming from living alone in an apartment to suddenly having 60 "housemates"!
A book by our sister Joan Chittister, What Are You Looking For? Seeking the God Who Is Seeking You, has been rummaging around in my head these days. These seekers, hailing from four countries (including the United States), present a close-up look at the latest followers of the Gospel of Jesus, through a commitment with a community of women religious.
I am not in vocation/formation work, but our vocation director tells me that among the most common subjects that seekers talk about today are: authenticity, community life, social justice issues, and personal and communal prayer.
This phenomenon of new membership is hard work, and I'm not referring to the new members; I'm referring to us, the already residents! These newer members call us to authenticity, community life, social justice issues, and personal and communal prayer, too. Every day I ask myself: Am I living an authentic life? The life I, too, read about on our website; the Christ-life that I pray about every day; the Way that I have been searching for all my life?
When these women arrive they jump onto a fast-moving train of community life, prayer and ministry. In our monastery we sing the Liturgy of the Hours three times a day, are involved in numerous social service and educational works, maintain a vibrant hospitality ministry, and engage in spiritual leadership roles locally, as well as beyond. Our life is busy, it's energizing and it's blessed.
Whether they move through their formation years into a perpetual profession of vows, or they return to another path after some time here, we will be grateful to have had them among us. And we hope that their faith life will, in turn, be a little clearer, a little deeper and a little better for having spent some time with us.
[Susan Doubet is a Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, and is currently the subprioress of the community. She is a former secondary teacher and administrator and has worked in numerous areas of communications for over 20 years.]