Friday, April 20, 2018

Merger and Loss of Identity


A friend related being on a committee that is discussing merger of congregations into a single larger group. They had been at this conversation for decades, and this committee is another iteration of it. Each time they come to a decision point, they're told, "this is our last chance to make this decision - then it will be too late." So they decide not to merge, and a few years later, they have another round and again, people say, it is our last chance to make this decision - then it will be too late.... and on it goes. So this year again, at a general chapter, they decided not to merge, but to continue talking and see what emerges.


Some of the proposals have one governance structure, and each of the previous congregations would have an administrator in charge of housing, healthcare, cars, and the daily lives of the sisters in each of the traditional congregational centers. But the congregational identity would be no more. They have written a 50-60-70 year story together - or "80 for those who are strong". And they will no longer gather as a congregation, no longer come together to meet, greet, and catch-up, gather, pray and ponder together this life and mission they share, no longer write a common story. What a loss.

My friend had a dream which she shared.
Image result for booksIn the dream, I was being asked to move - no, I was being moved to a central community. The sisters said they would pack everything for me.
When I arrived, they had my clothing and personal items.
"Thanks," I said, still dazed from the move. "Where are my books?"
"Oh, don't worry," came the reply, "We have books here. You don't need your books, we got rid of them. Many were old and marked up, full of notes on scraps of paper and pictures and poems. Don't worry, we have books here."
"My prayer journals? The books I've prayed with for years? The poems I've written? The photos I've taken? The books given to me by the author, with a personal note? Did you save any of them? How do we get them back?"
"Don't worry, honey" came the answer, in a genuine attempt at comforting me, "We have books here."
She realized that in their conversation, they never talked about identity. They talked about a stronger central identity, but they never talked about local identity and about forums for the continued life and mission among those they have lived with all these years.

In my work with communities around the country, the most common reason that communities don't merge is because they want to retain their identity. They want to find a way to continue to live their mission together, realizing the need to collaborate for mutual support as the community ages and gets smaller.

They are looking for ways to keep their books, to continue to reverence the stories, the prayers, the poetry they have written together.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Yes AND


Someone recently sent me an article that said we should focus on changing policy, not on making small consumer choices, hoping that will make the difference. For me, I think it's a YES AND situation. 


Image result for andChange global policy affecting climate, poverty and justice.

Yes and....

1. Consume less, buy less, use less. 
2. Consume local, buy local, use local.
3. Consume organic/natural, buy organic/natural, use organic/natural.

AND
Talk to friends, neighbors, students, family about why you are doing it.

AND
Get churches, schools, government, companies, to make more sustainable choices.

AND 
Advocate and Vote for people and policies that are more sustainable, and support research to find best practices.

AND 
Join with others who are making a difference at any of these levels

AND
Make it a life-style!!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Summer Sisters 2018

Once again this year, I would like to extend the invitation to join in building community with me here in St. Louis, for a period of time during the summer. It can be the experience you seek: Retreat. Sabbath Time. Vacation. R&R. Embodied Commitment to Sustainability. Emersion in an Urban Ecovillage. Nurturing body, spirit, the future of religious life.
We'll have to work around the house schedule which is a little crazy this year - but then when is life not crazy. Let's do what we can.
Here's a link to a prior invitation. If you're interested, drop me a line and we'll talk more.
ALSO - if any women discerning religious life would like to spend several weeks in a live-in experience, let me know and we will see what we can arrange for that too. We have several houses where you might be able to join us.
Amy
www.ahereford.org

Friday, February 9, 2018

Who Are We and Where Are We Going?

I was recently asked to respond on video to the questions:
What is the NEW that Women Religious are about today?
What is emerging in the world that Women Religious need to be about?
This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the gift that religious life has been to me, and continues to be to those who are called and to all those with whom and for whom they respond.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

How Do You Know?


Since I have been working in vocation ministry, people have asked on occasion: how do you know you are called? How do you know what you're called to? How do you know it is right for you? Really, how can anyone possibly know what God has in store for them?
It is an important question, but there is no easy answer. I would probably answer it differently every time. How do I know? How did I know when I was in my twenties and I entered religious life? How do I know it is still right for me?
I guess that the answer I would give today is that it's about

  • God, 
  • Community and 
  • Mission. 
Or, as we have come to say in our "CSJ world" i.e. our Sister of St. Joseph world, it's about
  • Community
  • Spirituality
  • Justice
So first off, it's about God or Spirituality. Do I have a relationship with God? Is God tugging at my heart for a deeper relationship? Do I find joy and peace when I am with my God in prayer? as well as when I am living out of that God-relationship in community and in mission? God is the center of our lives, and in religious life, we live out of that centrality. We are privileged to have a lifetime of spiritual growth and development. And this is a gift that grounds the rest of our life, and enables us to share spirituality with all those we meet. 
Second, it's about Community. Do I feel called to share my journey of spirituality and mission with other sisters or brothers who are committing to the same life journey? Do I have the skills to live in community? Can I share? trust? respect? love? Can I build community with all those God calls me to live with? Am I ready to do the work of community? - for a lifetime? There's no walking away when the times get touch, or someone gets on my nerves. We learn to love one another in our brokenness, and we love one another into wholeness. This wholeness does not mean that we never get on one another's nerves, it means that we have learned to reverence each other as gifts of God. We love and support each other in our differences, in our trials and in our joys.
Finally it's about Mission or Justice. We come together to see the world with God's eyes. To bring God's love in very concrete ways into our world. We do not bend the bruised reed or crush the smoldering wick. Instead we bring light into the dark places, hope to the despairing, joy to the sorrowful. We do this in concrete ways: by embracing the weak and the poor, by lifting up those that are bowed down, by bringing the healing, creative power of God to each person we meet and each place we inhabit.
I see my lay brothers and sisters doing the same, in their particular vocation. In religious life, we do this in community, shaped by our spirituality and the vows. I thank God for this gift.
Peace,
Amy


Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Questions...

The Five Best Questions A Job Candidate Can Ask ...Changes in vocation and formation ministry are raising new questions, particularly collaborative formation programs on the national or international scale. These programs may gather women or men from various parts of the country or the world. Candidates may be engaging in the formation program in a language and culture that are not their own. It is important to ask how this new reality may impact those we invite, and those who will be successful in our formation programs. Someone who struggles with language or culture may be unwilling or unable to enter or complete our formation programs. Are these men and women called to religious life? Are there communities where they can live and grow? Are we impoverished if we cannot accept them with the gifts they bring?
The same changes raise questions of cost and carbon-footprint. A few generations ago, candidates came by bus, and stayed in the formation community until they were ready to go out on mission. Now home visits are much more common and often involve air-travel. In a national or international formation program, our newer sisters and brothers become frequent fliers before final vows. The saying goes: “join the convent and see the world!” While travel and collaboration may be unprecedented gifts, can we also ask about the life-style we are modeling and about its impact on the environment?
Finally, this level of collaboration in formation has begun to raise questions about the ongoing accompaniment of candidates through the formation process. A new brother or sister who raises concerns at various points in the formation program may be given the benefit of the doubt. If these programs are in different places and even different countries, it is more difficult to get a clear picture of the candidate’s deepening sense of vocation and commitment, and to connect the dots regarding troublesome behaviors. In some recent cases, when a brother or sister settled down after final vows, the community got a first clear and consistent picture of them, only to realize that they should never have made vows and perhaps should be dismissed.
All this is not to say we should immediately pull back from collaborative programs, but simply to invite us to continued discernment as to the best ways to continue inviting women and men into religious life and the best ways of accompanying them in inquiry, discernment and formation.