This week’s letter about what’s happening at Bethany House is going to be a little different (and longer) than usual. In addition to what I usually share, I have several updates to share with you about various things that are happening. I also want to share one or two more videos with you regarding the testimonies of men and women in religious life (that is, men and women who have consecrated their themselves to lives of prayer and service). So, let’s get started!
First, with regard to the possibility of moving Mass from Sunday morning to Saturday evening, let me share what’s likely to happen with my schedule in the Chaplain’s Office at the prison and how that may affect us. It may be worth noting that I have very little control over any of this. As Father Tim prepares to leave for Michigan and we search for a new Chaplain to work with me, it is likely that I will required to work both Saturdays and Sundays (my current work week is Tuesday through Saturday, and Father Tim’s is Sunday through Thursday).
We are required – given the large size of our inmate population – to have seven day per week coverage by the two Chaplains. This is largely due to the requirements surrounding emergency and death notices coming in to us from inmate family members. We only have a 24 hour window in which to notify inmates of such emergencies – and, to be truthful, we like to notify them as quickly as possible. In my ten years at the prison, I can attest to the fact that most of the emergency and death notices come in between Thursday and Sunday. With Father Tim’s departure, I’m fairly certain that the Warden will want me there during those days.
Hence, I may not have a choice – for an extended period of time, at least – as to whether I can be with you on Sunday mornings. Even so, this may be a blessing in disguise for us. Here’s why: It may force us to think outside the box when it comes to our ministry to each other and our outreach to the community beyond Bethany House. Whether we are forced to worship on Saturday evenings or simply choose to do so, the following opportunities will present themselves…
1. Current members of MAMA Church, for whom Sunday mornings are difficult to attend, will be much more likely to be able to join us.
2. Individuals and families who are interested in MAMA Church but not yet ready to make any “jump” from their current Church home (of whom there are quite a few) could join us more easily on Saturday evenings.
3. Individuals and families who are interested in MAMA Church and in taking part in our worship and some of our ministries (but who do not intend on leaving their home Church) could join us more easily on Saturday evenings.
4. Celebrating Mass on Saturday evenings would allow much greater flexibility in facilitating “Sunday School” and/or community meals (to which we would invite the community beyond Bethany House) follow Mass. It’s worth noting, that for many individuals Saturday evenings are the loneliest time of the week. Celebrating Mass and offering post-Mass activities on Saturday evening could prove to be an immense blessing to such folks.
5. Celebrating Mass on Saturday evenings would free me up to celebrate Mass with the EKCC inmates on Sundays. Not only that, it would be an opportunity to revive the work I had begun in 2009/10 of creating a quasi-monastic community behind the walls of the prison – The Fellowship of Saint Joseph.
6. Celebrating Mass on Saturday evenings would give me a two-day weekend. Even though I am highly energized to do the work God has given me and I’m excited about seeing what Bethany House can become, I need more than a one-day weekend in which to rest, be quiet, and prepare for the week ahead.
Please pray about this. As I noted, we may not have a choice. The lapse of time between the departure of Father Tim’s predecessor in the Chaplain’s Office and Father Tim’s arrival was nearly eight months – eight months in which I had to care for 1,700 inmates’ spiritual needs on my own. I anticipate having to do likewise this time – the only difference is that EKCC now houses just under 2,000 inmates. I am going to need all the support and help I can get from you!!
Now, on to the issues surrounding the creation of a monastic community at Bethany House! I’ve known since July 29, 2010 – at Morning Prayer on that Feast of Saints Mary and Martha – that the founding of a Anglican parish in Mt. Sterling would be something very different than just another Church. As I wrestled with the Lord over why yet another Church should be founded here – and as I honed the sense of call and had to meet with the approval of two bishops – I knew, and still know, that MAMA Church is to be some kind of monastic community. This is why, through the years, I have laid such emphasis on our participation in the Daily Office. This is why I have asked us to be highly intentional about our daily study of sacred Scripture.
So, what is the difference between a monastic community and a normal parish Church? (By the way, let me say this before starting down the road of explanation – a monastery or abbey can simultaneously serve as the home for a monastic community and also as the home of a parish Church – not all the parishioners will choose to live according to monastic vows, and that is quite okay!) The first difference is obvious: The members of a monastic community take vows relating to the mission of the community, while members of a parish Church do not. Members of a parish Church are highly encouraged to engage in the practices of the spiritual life, but they do not make vows to that effect. And for those among us who choose not to make monastic vows, nothing will change for them at Bethany House. They will be able to pick and choose what they participate in and how often.
For those, however, who do choose to make vows in a monastic community at Bethany House, there will be self-imposed requirements of prayer (the Daily Office), worship (Mass), and service (especially in the area of evangelism and the works of mercy). They will wear a certain kind of cross that will serve as the “habit” for the community and will seek to give themselves over as completely as possible to God. Once a Rule of Life is written and adopted by the community, it will become the way of life for us.
We who are interested in making this commitment must remember two things:
1. The requirements will be realistic and take into account the range of busy schedules in our midst. Essentially, our Rule of Life will be very similar to what is expected of an Oblate – someone who “obligates” themselves to living in similar fashion to a monk or nun, but in the world rather than in a monastery. In this sense, Bethany House will be the “mother house” and our individual homes will be like “daughter houses”. As vowed members of a religious community we will engage in the mission of the community (as the Lord leads us and as we decide as a community), but we will also engage in our own separate missions or “apostolates” that are centered in our own homes, lives, and vocations.
2. Also, members of the monastic community need not be members of MAMA Church! So long as they are Baptized believers (having been Baptized with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) who are in good standing with their home Church, they may fully participate in the life of the monastic community. And, given that the community’s main mission will be something (perhaps a ministry to expecting mothers who are at risk for considering abortion) that transcends doctrinal issues, we would gladly welcome sturdy believers who have a desire to take their prayer and worship and service life to a new level!
If you would, please take some time this week to view this wonderful video about monastic life at Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts. Pay special attention to the testimonies of the sisters! Hear their hearts for God. Listen carefully as they explain what led them to a life of prayer. And notice the peace that pervades both the words of their testimonies (about their relationship with Jesus) and their countenances! What God has done in them he can do in us, too!
As you think about your life with Jesus in the week ahead, please consider making room for the Daily Office, the reading of sacred Scripture, and attendance at Bible study this Thursday (our Life of Jesus Study continues with John 4:1-26 – Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well). Bible study begins at 6:30pm and we try to wrap up by 8:00pm. Come and join us!!
If you would like a copy of this week’s “Our Life Together”, just send us an e-mail. Everything you need for daily prayer (Morning, Noonday, Evening, and Compline) is contained in it. And everything you need for daily Bible reading is also contained in it!
If you weren’t able to attend Mass on Sunday, you can see video of the entire Mass or just the sermon on our Bethany House Youtube Channel, on our Saints Mary & Martha Church at Bethany House Facebook page, or at our website – MAMA.church.
Praised be Jesus Christ!