Thursday, June 13, 2013

Heading West

The last couple of months, roughly since the last post, have been a sort of blur of activity for me.

In the course of the early part of this year the Order decided to purchase St. Mary's Retreat House from the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity (SHN), and committed in a pretty definite way to remaining in the West, and in Southern California in particular.  This was quite gratifying to me, as I have spent 25 years of my life in California, first in Berkeley at CDSP for 3 years, then in Santa Barbara for 11, back to Berkeley for 2, and Anaheim for 9.  So I was happy when the process led to the decision for me to move back to Santa Barbara this summer.

Back to Santa Barbara.  Well, "back" in the sense of returning to the geographical location.  But of course everything else has changed.  Our former monastery there burned completely to the ground in the Tea Fire in November, 2008, and OHC has devoted a lot of our energies since then to discerning what to do in its wake.  I think that process, while lasting 4 and a half years, has been careful and responsible.

The first reality was that we lost everything in that fire except the people.  The data backup disk, the ancient tin painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the emergency suitcases of the brothers were basically all that was rescued.  I asked one of the brothers shortly after the fire what were his feelings about losing everything, and he said something surprising: It was a relief.  All that "stuff" was gone and he had none of the guilt or angst about deciding to get rid of any of it.  A form of liberation.  I think it is that sense of liberation that has made the remarkable progress of OHC in Santa Barbara since then possible.

The second reality was that SHN welcomed the brothers on that fateful day and opened their house and hearts to us in truly unexpected ways.  The sisters had already realized that because of their diminishing numbers they could not continue personally to run the retreat ministry there, and soon offered us St. Mary's as a new home to continue our monastic life and ministry.  The brothers who remained there - Nicholas Radelmiller, Tom Schultz, Laurence Harms, Roy Parker and Will Brown - worked hard and with success to re-establish the monastic life as OHC lives it and to rebuild the retreat business.  Roy eventually moved to West Park.  This work has proven that OHC can continue in Santa Barbara in our new situation.  

The third reality is that OHC as a whole had to come to a sense of what we wanted going forward.  At more or less the same time OHC opened a new school in South Africa, a kindergarten through third grade school for the disadvantaged rural children we have come to know and love around our Grahamstown monastery.  We have begun to face in practical ways the fact that many of our members are getting older and to do something about that.  We have finally found (we think) a satisfactory answer to the roof problems which have plagued the 1965 monastery building at West Park.  And we have been living seriously into our Benedictine commitments, which seem to be leading us in the direction of empowering individual houses to focus and grow more on the local level in terms of ministry, formation and finance.

The Chapter has considered the progress of the Santa Barbara situation in depth every year since, watching the various possibilities unfold and carefully deliberating what the course of our future there should be.  In 2012 we came to a consensus to remain if we could, and entrusted the process from that point to the Superior and Council.  A lot of hard work went into the details.  In January OHC bought St. Mary's from SHN, and in April the property "up the hill" was sold.  The cross from the old Mount Calvary garden has been brought down the hill, and after the numerous permissions required by the Santa Barbara civic entities have been obtained, it will be erected in the gardens of our new monastery.  The new monastery, for reasons of legal continuity, is to be called Mount Calvary.  The old Mount Calvary was always Mount Calvary Retreat House.  The new is Mount Calvary Monastery.  A subtle but important difference.

The erection of the cross and the the name embody a degree of continuity.  But something new is happening, something important for us and for our thousands of friends in the West.  The decision to remain in Santa Barbara is a decision not to replicate the past but to build something new.  I am excited to be joining our community there because we are in a process of rethinking our monastic life and practices: to be a monastery first, a monastery out of which retreat and other ministries grow.  At the former Mount Calvary it was the other way around: the community existed first to service the ministry.  We fitted our monastic life in and around the spaces left by that ministry.  I think our Benedictine identity is going to help us envision a stronger community and individual monastic life, and in that energy to realize that our retreat, preaching and teaching, spiritual direction and outreach ministries will grow out of our monastic life and reflect its values and energies. 

So I am charged up.  I am going back but not "back".  Back to that lovely part of the world.  But not "back" to what once was.  That is gone.  We are in a different place, literally and figuratively.  And so I expect are the many friends I enjoyed in California before I moved to New York in 2001.  My life has moved on and so have their lives.  It will be lovely to re-establish old bonds and make new ones.  It will be exciting to live into our monastic development.