Last Friday, the Servant Leadership class from UW Extension held its monthly class at the monastery. Toby Grabs, our operations manager, gave the class a tour and introduction to the monastery. I met with them to talk about how we exercise leadership in the monastery. I lifted up three principles that have guided us and served to move us into the future: listening to others collaboration and community.
Because we have always been a small community and because we value collaboration and community building, we have consulted with and involved others in our ministry and decision-making through the years. In the early 90s the sisters brought together a group of people to help them vision for the future. The result of that process was that the sisters’ community decided to explore becoming ecumenical.
In 1998, Sister Mary David Walgenbach, sensing the interest in Benedictine spirituality among people who came to the monastery, called together Father Ken Smits, OFM Cap who was serving us in liturgy and spirituality, Jody Crowley Beers, the director of spirituality at the monastery, and a group of people who wanted to develop Benedictine spirituality in their lives. After a year of meeting together, the oblate community was born as the first class made their promises as oblates. In 2019, the oblates will celebrate their 20th anniversary as a community.
Sunday Assembly grew out of the people who came to the monastery beginning in the 70s to celebrate the Eucharist with the sisters. When we were in the process of becoming ecumenical 30 years later, the sisters held listening sessions after the Eucharist to hear how the people wanted to go into the future as we became ecumenical. They told us they wanted to continue worshiping at the monastery because of the open and welcoming community and the inclusive language used in the service.
More recently, Friends of Wisdom Prairie was born from the growing desire of many people to be involved in and support caring for the earth at the monastery. With the establishment of the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal, another community of people will be added to those who journey with us.
At the end of my presentation to the Servant Leadership class, Carolyn, a member of the class, commented that this was an evolutionary way of moving into the future. Indeed, it is. The Benedictine values of prayer, listening, humility, seeing Christ in the other, collaboration, openness to change and community building are the guiding practices that will continue to lead us as we evolve.
Carolyn also noted that what we offer at the monastery is the wholeness that so many people are seeking in their divided and fragmented lives. As we offer the opportunity for integration through Benedictine practices, people will continue to be drawn to participate in the life of the monastery.
Years ago when I was talking with Sister Joanne Kollasch about the uncertainty of the future, she said to me, “We don’t have to know what we are going to do in the future. The important thing is to know who we are with.” I take comfort and hope in those words. We sisters are with wonderful people: our coworkers, oblates, Sunday Assembly members, Friends of Wisdom Prairie members, retreatants, guests, friends and other seekers.
As we stay faithful to Christ and the Benedictine values that guide us, we will be led step by step into the future. During this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the people with whom we journey.