Monday, May 31, 2010

Trinity Sunday Sermon

The sermon I preached at West Park yesterday, Trinity Sunday, is up on the Holy Cross Monastery sermon blog.

I wanted to focus on the connection between the observable universe and the divine. It is my conviction that the Trinity is the most adequate religious description of why "what is" is the way it is. I hope I have avoided the worst pitfalls of panentheism. It was well received.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


The second major trip I made this spring was to Toronto (April 20-24) for the annual meeting of the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas, or CAROA. Each year the leadership of North American Anglican religious orders meets for general discussions that last about a week.

Brs. Scott Borden (the Assistant Superior) and Andrew Colquhoun (in charge of formation for annually professed) and I drove to Toronto and were met there by Br. Robert Sevensky, the Superior. He was already there, after making his annual visitation to Holy Cross Priory in Toronto. The drive was nice -- up the NY State Thruway (I-87) to Albany, west on the Thruway (I-90) to Syracuse, north on I-81 to Watertown and the Thousand Islands (beautiful!), across into Canada and west on 401 to Toronto. It took a little more than 9 hours, but we didn't gun it. We had a nervous moment at the border, as Br. Scott had endured a Canadian inquisition the last time he entered Canada, but this time, all was sweetness and light.

The conference was at the new convent of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine. They have a long and distinguished history in Canada, working in hospital administration, medicine and nursing care as well as in education and church work. Recently they have built a new convent on the grounds of St. John's Hospital, now separately administered. The convent is a wonderful modern building, light and airy and spacious. It is built around a quadrangle, with full guest facilities, the usual rooms for community life, a good library (with two copies of my book!), a wonderful infirmary built and equipped for (I believe) eight sisters, and best of all, a magnificent new chapel. SSJD has many gifted members, and music is among their gifts, so the chapel music was especially good. One of the sisters was a professional violinist, and gave a delightful concert Friday night with the music director of the convent at the keyboards (organ and piano).

The SSJD sisters were warm and welcoming. It was wonderful to catch up with old friends from the religious life across North America, and to make some new friends as well. The discussions centered around the agendas CAROA wants to pursue in the next couple of years. CAROA organizes the presence of the religious communities at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (I helped with that last summer in Anaheim) and at the General Synod in Canada. The Canadian Church officially recognizes the religious communities in Canada (at this point there are three active: SSJD, OHC and the Sisters of the Church) by giving them two seats in Synod. The Episcopal Church does not.

The leadership of the conference was under the guidance of Fr. Gregory Fruewirth of the Order of Julian of Norwich, Fr. Donald Anderson, the General Secretary, who is a Canadian priest with wide experience in the ecumenical movement at the international level, and Ms. Suzanne Lawson, a very gifted facilitator with extensive experience at the national level of the Canadian church. Fr. Gregory has recently resigned as the Superior of OJN, and also as president of CAROA, in order to spend a six month time of work and reflection in Norwich.

The day began with Morning Prayer organized around small group lectio reflections on the daily Old Testament lessons for the week, from Exodus. This proved very fruitful. The meetings included function groups for superiors, for formation directors (my group) and for others. In the function groups we had time to share community and vocational issues on a deeper level. But most of the meetings were in whole group format. The discussions were quite frank, with time spent on the possibilities of cooperation in the care of elderly members, in helping declining communities in various ways, in the seemingly eternal topics of recruitment and helping the Anglican churches become better informed about the religious life. Suzanne Lawson did not let us get too diffuse about these and other topics, and had a firm hand in leading us away from pious generalities and toward actual people doing actual things. I ended up being the coordinator for formation directors for the coming year.

A highlight of our time together was a talk given by the Anglican Archbishop of Toronto, Colin Johnson. He has been an associate of SSJD for most of his ministry and understands pretty well what we do. He is delightfully informal, and had warm and helpful words for us. Another visitor one evening was OHC's Br. Reginald Crenshaw, now stationed at our priory in Toronto, who was very much a part of CAROA leadership conferences for many years and is deeply loved.

The time-off time was scheduled at the end of the conference, on Saturday afternoon, with the business finished, and we were tired and eager to return home. So after the business session on Saturday morning we piled back into the van and the four of us drive back the way we came. Well, almost. At Watertown we turned onto NY Highway 12 and drove south through a more rural area, quite lovely, rejoining the Thruway at Utica. I love the drive through the Mohawk Valley and it was wonderful to watch the trees leaf out more and more as we went further south.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ascension Day sermon

Just a brief note to tell you that my sermon for Ascension Day, preached at West Park, has been posted. It was one of those sermons whose impact is hard to judge. Except for a few smiles during the first paragraph, there was little reaction, mostly quiet. Was it the quiet of Ho Hum, another boring sermon by Adam? Or the quiet of, This is something that interests me? A few comments later on indicated the second might be a possibility, so I thought it might be worth drawing your attention to.

And while I'm at it, if you don't know about the Holy Cross sermon blog (actually, it is called the Lectionary Blog), it is worth a look. Most of the brethren post their sermons there. Most of them are pretty good. And it's a good way to get to know the OHC community and get a flavor of monastic theology and preaching, OHC-style.

Monday, May 17, 2010

St. Meinrad's

I feel I should catch up my gentle readers on the main events of the past few blogless months. So here is the first of a pair of reports on two major trips.

The annual meeting of Benedictine formators (that's contemporary Romespeak for novice masters) was held the week after Easter. This was my second year attending this meeting. It was at St. Meinrad's Archabbey in southwestern Indiana. You can fly to Evansville or, as I did, to Louisville KY. Fr. Sean, the Guestmaster, was there to pick me up. There had been a weather disturbance in Chicago earlier in the day which had delayed flights all around. I was more or less on time but another participant was not, so we waited. He eventually showed up and we made it to St. Meinrad's in time for Vespers.

St. Meinrad's was founded in 1854 from Einsiedeln. That area of Indiana is populated by people of the Swiss-German diaspora, and is, even in this parlous economy, pretty prosperous. Hardworking people unto the umpteenth generation, I guess. The monastery's mission over the years has encompassed education, including high school, college and seminary, parish work in the local area, and traditional monastic crafts as well. I have the impression that like a lot of larger institutions, it has had to change with the times (who hasn't!) and though I heard little of their struggles, the new guest ministry building, the fairly separate seminary operation, and the new monastery are physical testimonies to re-conceived ministries. The monastery seems to be undergoing a renewal, with younger and dynamic leadership in the formation program, and it is working. The vocation part of the website is one of the best I have seen.

The building complex is enormous. The monastery church is a mid-nineteenth century romanesque/gothic mix, which I found intimidating in its exterior aspect. I am pretty sure it was designed to impress, sited at the edge of a ridge overlooking a valley. Not only is it huge, but you have to look up from below the hill to see it. The interior is another matter, however. Some years ago the community cleared out the church, stripping it to its bare bones, as it were, and lived with it in that state for a while. (I am repeating my memory of what I heard, so forgive me, brothers, if I get it wrong.) After some years they came to a consensus of what to do, and it is brilliant, in my humble opinion. They completely reoriented the liturgical space. The organ pipes (which must rise two stories) are in the old sanctuary area.

The nave divides more or less naturally into three parts. The one nearest the sanctuary, at the truncated transept area, is devoted to the monastic choir, whose beautifully built and very sturdy seats rise in four levels, accommodating something like 80 monks. The altar is in the west area, near the great doors. It is a large square table whose sides are covered with gilt metal. At the offertory during the Eucharist, the community moves from the choir to the altar, the priests in white albs in a semicircle behind and the rest of the community in a semicircle facing them. It is very effective. The middle section is for visitors and guests (though we were graciously received into the monastic choir). This section is the least marked of the three, consisting of little more than chairs in facing rows. The church "works" remarkably well, I think.

St. Meinrad's is so huge that its three elements -- monastery, guest house and seminary -- don't seem to meet except by appointment, as it were. The seminary occupies a very large complex to the south of the church, and has its own chapel and food arrangements. The Guesthouse is a completely separate modern building at some distance from the monastery. I think the guests attend chapel with the monks, but they are quite separated there as well. The monastery is a modern three-story building, interestingly trapezoidal in shape. The monastic refectory (the guests and the seminary have their own eating arrangements) is the central element, rather like West Park's -- octagonal, bigger, but without the view. There is a long hall from the refectory to the statio, which is the meeting point of the building, and then another hall to the church. A well-thought out plan. The rooms are like the new rooms in the monastery at Collegeville -- large, 15' by 17' or so, with a bathroom at one side of the entry and a closet at the other.

The Daily Office begins with a combination of Vigils and Lauds at 5:30 am, Mass at 7:30, noon day prayer, Vespers at 5:00 and Compline at 7:00. The timetable is built around the need for teachers at the seminary, I think, though it seems that not so many of the monks teach there now as in earlier days. They use the Grail Psalter to tones similar to Collegeville but with many of their own melodies. The liturgical life calls forth a lot of talent at St. Meinrad's, and it shows.

The conference itself was great. Br. John Mark Falkenhain led us in a consideration of psycho-sexual maturity in celibate (male) clergy and male religious. John Mark is a monk of St. Meinrad's and a psychologist whose research has been in this area, with particular emphasis on abuse issues. He is data-oriented and so we got a good snapshot of the condition of male celibates and their developmental dynamics. I was struck by how different the Anglican world is on this issue. It is a cliché to say it, but for Anglicans, celibacy is a choice and is in no way forced. Quite the opposite, actually! The presence of women in the ordained ministry makes a big difference to us. And Holy Cross has for a long time been fairly open in our discussion of these issues among ourselves, leading to a level of mutual understanding and support within the community that I sensed may be harder to achieve in Roman monastic communities.

On our last full day the conference participants went on an outing to New Harmony, Indiana, a town that was founded as part of the early 19th Century utopian movement and was associated with Robert Owen. It is a lovely place, interestingly but not obsessively restored, having reinvented itself as a conference center. There is some new architecture as well. The visitor center is by Richard Meier and the Roofless Church, where we sang Vespers, is by Philip Johnson. There is interesting contemporary sculpture there and in other locations in the town. I dragged a few of the brethren into St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and we had a learning moment about Anglican liturgy, architecture, furnishings, customs and sociology. We ended the day with a wonderful restaurant dinner.

The St. Meinrad's community was warm and welcoming. The Abbot made a point of meeting us. There are a number of younger men in formation, and as seems typical (judging from Collegeville last year) they seemed a little reticent about meeting us. I was particularly moved to meet the older monks at recreation, which takes place daily between supper and Compline. One of them was a former abbot (I did not know!), another the former librarian, and a third a great scholar of African-American Catholicism. And best of all, the brother tailor remembered OHC's request for help when we changed our habits back in the 80's! I felt warmly welcomed. It was a great way to celebrate the week of the Resurrection!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I'm Back

After a 3 week bout of illness in February, dragging into March, (not too serious, bronchitis mixed with flu) and a whole lot of work and travel, some of which I will probably write about, I'm back.

Obviously, simplicity is what I need in my life at this point! I do hope to write more about it, and this time with more experience about its need and its elusiveness.

One administrative thing. Someone has been posting comments to the blog which, if one clicks on them, seem to end up on porn sites from the far east. So I have changed the setting and will now be reviewing comments before they post. I hope this does not offend anyone, but after a half dozen or so of these pesky critters, I thought it the better part.