Saturday, August 3, 2013
Emerging Religious Life
Religious life in the US today is at an important place within the life of the church and within the life cycles of many institutes. For many women's communities, the median age is approaching 80 years of age, nearly the life expectancy of women in this country; men's communities are generally a little better off. Given this reality, some communities are coming to realize that they likely have, at most, one or two more cycles of leadership (usually 4-6 year terms) before the matter becomes critical. Then there will be neither time nor a critical mass of members able to make decisions, get the affairs of the community in order, and ensure the dignity of their final years and legacy. While some communities will continue , many communities are approaching their historical completion as institutions, they are likely writing the last chapter of their life-story, whether they realize it or not. This will require some realistic and careful planning to prepare for this phase of the life journey and to fulfill it with dignity.
This is the work of the large dominant cohort, work which will ensure that the last chapter of their community's history is as compelling and grace-filled as was the first chapter and every chapter in between. It is immensely important work, and it is necessary to ensure the legacy of the community, allowing members the ability to make their own choices in this regard, and to live this phase in a way that does honor to their heritage.
If this is not the final generation of the community, for many, it is nevertheless a time when the majority of community members will have moved from active ministry to the ministry of elderhood which is more focused on prayer and presence than on carrying the responsibilities of active ministry. This too will require careful though and transition.
This task is the focus of the Covenant Project workshops which are being held both online and on-ground as well as other similar programs.
There remains another task of religious life today, often the task of the minority of younger members in our congregations. From the midst of the current communities, members wish to remain in relationships with their sisters and are ready to support them in their work and bless them on their journey. However, this group has another task: to imagine the future of religious life in the next fifty years. We are committed to doing honor to our heritage, and to making choices to adapt the life to the new reality in which we find ourselves.
As we move forward with the transformation of religious life, we need to examine those elements of structure that will assist us in our journey, and those elements that are holding us back. How might we imagine a way to free the emerging energy in religious life to explore new paths? How are we creating spaces for this in our midst today?