Friday, November 10, 2017

Living In Unity, Working With Love



Podcast: https://www.sisterstory.org/story/community-education-prayer/living-unity-working-love

...I am Sr Amy Hereford. I am a sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet from St. Louis Missouri. By way of ministry, I do civil and canon law for religious communities. So, I work with a lot of communities as they are facing tough issues, facing changes in their communities, and just walk them through that change, help them understand what their choices are, and what the consequences of the choices are. So, it brings me in contact a lot of fascinating people from different religious communities, different sisters, different brothers, etc.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Out of the Convent, Into the Street

The people of St. Louis are trying to process another not-guilty decision in another police shooting that left another young black man named Anthony Lamar Smith dead. I thought I was ‘woke’. I thought I 'got'  racism, as much as a white middle-aged woman could. And for this reason, I took to the streets.
On the one hand, I saw amazing moments of solidarity, community and grass roots work by blacks and whites and everyone in between. Keisha Mabry wrote a piece entitled 25 Magical Moments From The Anthony Lamar Smith Protest. Yes, yes, and double yes. I as a middle-aged white woman thought I was seeing this. I am so glad that Keisha named it so well. We are so far ahead of where we were in Ferguson just three years ago, though in truth, we have many miles still to go.
In Ferguson, we heard, we saw, we experienced, we cried, we raged, and we all went home, and many of us came together to try to do our homework. I went to groups where we talked about white privilege and how to address it in the white community. I learned about unpacking my own racism and how to begin being a better ally to my brothers and sisters of color. I wasn’t sure it was making a difference, but my brothers and sisters of color assured me this would make a difference in their lives.
I come back to the streets in 2017 much more prepared. And I think the black community was doing its homework as well. We come back to the streets organized, determined, ready to do the work of justice with the sometimes awkward, partially-woke white community. And the result is the magic we are seeing on the streets.
The police did their homework as well, but the narrative they were working from was how to quell a riot. Well, this is not a riot – this is a peaceful assembly with a clear and persistent message. The people show up: people of color, people of all colors and people of no color. We peacefully assemble, we speak freely, we petition the government to address our grievances, and it’s protected by the constitution which forbids:
…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We are doing something fundamental to the very existence of our democracy. And the police show up in riot gear with tear gas, pepper spray, zip-ties for mass arrests, and riot guns. So the crowd chats:
I don’t see no riot here.
Why are you in riot gear?
The crowds, a few hundred strong are peaceful, collaborative, disciplined and proud.
Tell me what democracy looks like.
This is what democracy looks like.
One of the actions was an interfaith prayer service. We prayed together, and people even gave speeches to God. People spoke of their faith, their hope, their courage. People spoke of justice and of Gods creation of all peoples to be brother and sisters. People spoke of the grace that disturbs systems of injustice and calls us back to a holy indignation that recognizes and dismantles systems of oppression. Then we marched; we prayed with our feet. And we chanted:
Tell me what theology looks like.
This is what theology looks like.
At one point when I was out on the street, the group was gathered and chanting. Earlier in the day, the police had interrupted an otherwise peaceful protest and started indiscriminately arresting people. So we gathered outside the jail where they were being held. We marched around the area a bit.
I wanted to move outside the group and onto a nearby sidewalk to join a friend. In order to do so, I had to cross a police line that was forming. The officer in semi-riot gear said I couldn’t cross. What??? I told the officer I wanted to join my friend on the sidewalk. He said he had orders not to let anyone out of the group. What??? I asked “Am I being detained?” – knowing that he would have to articulate reasonable cause to suspect me of something. He said he would have to ask his sergeant. They ended up letting me go. But I’m a white middle-aged woman, and the first cop could have been my grandson.
No one was arrested in the action – but only because the protesters kept their cool, kept on message, kept strong and kept together, in the face of aggression from law-enforcement. I repeatedly see the elegance of their planning, organizing and actions. And by the grace of God, they elude the threatening officers.
Walking away from these actions, I am every more ‘woke’ to the brutality of racism. I can go to a protest or stay home. I can walk across a police line on the grounds of my race. But my sisters and brothers of color can't leave their race at home and breath the freedom I live - even just for a day.
Now I must say, that some officers have been courteous, fair and restrained in some tough situations. I thank them for that and I thank them for the many ways they serve and protect the community. At the same time, it is clear that the police have an element of brutality in their midst. These departments have clearly trained to quell riots. But they seem unable at times to distinguish between a riot and a peaceful assembly protected by the constitution.
I heard an officer report on his radio that a dispersal order had been given, when there was no dispersal order audible. I was close to the officers and the crowd and heard no such order. However, shortly thereafter, squads of riot police appeared on the scene. Why was that report given, when it was clearly wrong? What is wrong with this system? I hear the protesters’ chant, and I seem to see it validated:
The whole damn system is guilty as hell.
I see my brothers and sisters of color who have lived with this system day in and day out, year in and year out, decade after decade. I’m only beginning to see what they have lived with for a lifetime, and too often for a lifetime cut short by violence. My heart is breaking.
I turn to the men and women in blue. In another day, in another place, we walk the streets together, we do festivals together, we pray together in the same churches. Can we talk? Can we talk about the magical moments that are happening on the streets. Yes, sometimes the police protect the crowds as we come together to link arms and build the beloved community. Other times…. there is something powerfully and painfully wrong. And I believe that we can come together. Violence isn’t the answer.
–Sr. Amy

Friday, October 13, 2017

Summer Journey: Q&A with Sister Amy

by Kelly Davis, CSJ communications intern
Attorney and canonist Sister Amy Hereford combined work and pleasure this summer on a whirlwind trip that took her to Rome and across Ireland for six weeks. In Rome, S. Amy participated in an international canon law conference and other meetings before heading out to Ireland, where she met up with travel companion Sister Mary Louise Basler. Her work continued as she facilitated meetings and workshops with congregations of women religious in Ireland. Read about S. Amy’s recent journey and the cultural influences she experienced.
Q: How did this trip come to be?
A: It started when a community in Ireland invited me to come for a reflective workshop on the future of religious life. After that invitation came, another group invited me to work with them in Ireland. Since I would already be there, I said yes to them too. I also needed to attend some meetings in Rome and the canon law conference was in the same timeframe. It just unfolded piece by piece.
Q: What has impacted you the most from your experience?
A: The differences in the ways people think and believe shapes their culture, and I loved learning about these differences, because talking about the future of religious life and how it unfolds is impacted by culture. Having time to do some traveling, talk to sisters, learn about the similarities and differences in cultures and their experiences has been so rewarding. I learned so much about how the lives we live are very similar, even when our cultures differ.
Q: What was your favorite part of this trip?
A: When you walk down the streets here in America you pass a Taco Bell, a post office, maybe a coffee shop. When you walk down the streets in other countries you also pass a Taco Bell, a post office, a coffee shop, and then a giant castle. The history is so embedded in the culture, that eventually you think “Of course there’s a castle there.” The difference in culture was evident, yet there were also so many similarities.
Q: Were there any challenges you faced through this experience?
A: Because I have talked about the topic of the future of religious life before, I understand that each group is different. I can bring insight which can bring people together. But when I start to talk about the future, each group has something they specifically need to hear. It’s challenging to know what this particular group needs to hear, what insights it needs, what will spark their hope and their imagination. For me, it is a humbling challenge of asking God to work through me, and to allow these people to hear what they need through what I say.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Right now, I am teaching a course at the University of Dayton. I continue to write, speak and reflect on the future of religious life; every time I have a conversation I gain new insights. When I present, people bring up things I may not have realized or thought about before. There is also more
writing coming for me. There is a possibility of another book and a few articles.
Q: What takeaways did you gain from this trip?
A: I continue to sit with the particular situation of a local church, and the ups and downs they go through. It makes me realize even though different churches in different places will have different challenges and different situations, they are still similar. There is a connection; no matter how different the underlying issues might be, we are all facing these things together. Making connections and building relationships plugs me into the global evolution taking place in religious life.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Crying Out For Justice

No automatic alt text available.A long anticipated verdict came out in the Jason Shockley case. Again. A cop shot a black citizen on the streets of St. Louis, and he is not being held accountable. Again. There is a recording of the cop saying he is going to kill Anthony Lamar Smith in the course of arrest. Then he did just that. A gun found in the car has only the cop's DNA on it. And there is video evidence that he went up to the car after the shooting, evidently to plant a gun to exonerate himself.
My heart weeps that my brothers and sisters of color have to live through yet another incident of injustice. If the races were reversed in this case, there would have been a conviction. If the races were reversed, Shockley would have been shot dead at the scene.
It is unacceptable to shoot citizens, and doubly unacceptable to shoot a disproportionate number of people of color. I stand with an for my brothers and sisters of color and pledge my ongoing support.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Gift of a Lifetime


We gathered to celebrate on the evening before Sr. Mary Flick (royal blue shirt) makes her final profession as a Sister of St. Joseph. Sr. Sarah invited us each to bring a card, a prayer and small gift. Some were funny, some were profound, some were touching. All together, they said that we have walked with Mary for these past years from tentative probing of inquiry, through the deliberate ‘getting to know you’ of candidacy, through the deepening discernment of novitiate and through the growing confidence of her  years in temporary profession.
We celebrated Mary’s upcoming final profession in which she definitively says yes to the journey so far and to the unfolding journey of a Sister of St. Joseph. We also celebrated the lifetime profession of every other sister in the room. Each of us has given our lifetime gift and each of us in turn receives and holds the lifetime gift of the others. Each sister’s life is unique, each sister’s gift is unique, and as we gathered, we celebrated the richness of that diversity and the deep mutuality of our community.
Jesus says:
There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
 In religious life, this gospel-promise is lived out in a particular way. “The young and the old, the frightened, the bold, the greatest and the least….” We come to walk together, we share a feast, we share a journey, we support one-another in hope, in challenge, in service.
Each time we celebrate a sister who takes a step forward in her formation journey, we renew the deepest and highest gift we share. The gift we give for a lifetime, the gift we receive for a lifetime, the God who is the author of all giving.
Thank you Mary for this opportunity to remember, celebrate and grow.

--Amy

Friday, August 11, 2017

Be Kind

Send a message of kindness to everyone you can, including those you don’t know who may be behind you at a stop light or walking past your parked car.  BE KIND car magnets make it easy to remind everyone of the importance of being kind, even when it might be challenging or amidst difference. If you would like a BE KIND car magnet, they are available for a $5 donation to the Sisters of St. Joseph Mission and Ministries Foundation.  Click here to get yours.
Kindness — Get in the Habit!
Too often, we get caught in the busy-ness of life or feel the effects of the seemingly endless negative, divisive and violent messages we are bombarded with each day.  We all need reminders to be kind.
“If we acknowledge and reinforce kindness when we see it, we believe it will foster more kind acts,” said Mary Herrmann, SSJ. “We encourage everyone to use the kindness cards to acknowledge and increase kindness in our community.” 
In March of 2017, during National Catholic Sisters Week, we participated in a Kindness Campaign — a national initiative of several congregations of Catholic Sisters to promote kindness.  Locally we worked with the other congregations and launched a social media effort, ran television PSAs, billboards and distributed kindness cards — small cards given to anyone you see doing an act of kindness.  The kindness cards are available to download and print.
Thank you for your help in promoting kindness!
---from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Erie PA

Friday, July 28, 2017

What happens when they leave?

I recently came across an article about those leaving religious life during the formation program and the appropriate responses that might be given. Read the article.
I've thought a lot about this topic as I have worked with individuals and communities who are making this difficult journey. And I resonate with much that this article expresses.
The article ends with a poem by Tagore, and these lines express an important truth:
No; it is not yours to open buds into blossoms
Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.
This poem reminds me of the fact that vocation is not the work of vocation or formation directors, or of leadership or the sisters/brothers in community. Vocation is a mystery of gift and response and our task is that of a gardener who prepares the soil, waters and tends. Vocation unfolds in the life of the individual in relationship with their God.
In the vocation / formation journey, some will come, and some will go. Ours is to pray deeply, discern carefully, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God and with those on the vocation/formation journey. The decision to leave formation is complex, whether it is initiated by the community or it is initiated by the individual.

  • The individual in relationship with God and in their sense of self can experience a major personal turmoil. This will vary from one person to another, and with the length of time in formation, the reasons for leaving and the degree of mutuality of the decision. Sometimes the very characteristic that is the cause of departure is the characteristic that will show itself with a vengeance in the departure process. Communities do well to ensure that the individual is supported in discernment and in transition out of the community. Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness will help us to honor the blooming of this person's flower - even if it cannot bloom within the community. 
  • Others in formation are also impacted by the departure of someone in their group. That departure will likely raise questions about their own suitability and perseverance. It may also raise questions about the community and its formation program, and about those serving as leaders and formators. 
  • Formators can also feel the challenge of a departure. They have lived, worked and prayed very closely with the person leaving. From this experience, they can see both the potential and the challenges the individual is facing and they have their own sense of the propriety of the departure, which may differ from the one leaving and/or those in leadership. While maintaining their own personal integrity, as formators, they have a pastoral duty to the one they have been accompanying and the community.  Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness can also be applied to their own personal journey and to their work with leadership, others in formation and the community at large.
  • The whole community is invested in the formation program. Various brothers/sisters may have supported a particular candidate and encouraged them to pursue a vocation with the community. Confidentiality prohibits full disclosure of the dynamics of a departure. At the same time, that same honest and empathy that are used with the departing individual should be directed to those who have supported them in the community. A candidate, novice or temporary professed takes their first steps in our community. This can have the effect of touching each of us at the deep roots of our own vocation. It can be a moment of renewal, or a moment that touches our woundedness or unsettledness in our vocation. Awareness and compassion can guide us in this sensitive time. 
  • Families and friends of those who leave will also be impacted by the transition. Within the constraints of confidentiality, pastoral outreach to family and friends may be helpful both in supporting the individual who is leaving and in addressing the concerns of family and friends themselves. 

Many people experience the departure of an individual from community. When possible, ritual can help to express this experience and bring it to prayer, supporting everyone in their continued journey of faith.
The article touched on many of these factors, and helped me to focus my concerns about this issue. I believe that it is important to consider departure as we design vocation and formation programs. It is a reality of life, and as we invite people to consider our community, we should be ready to walk with them in good times and in bad, in arrivals and in departures.
Peace,
Amy