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Friday, October 10, 2008

Saying goodbye

I've been at the VW Dealership since 7:30 this morning. I've probably got another hour or so (And another $500 to replace the electrical whatsits on the driver side door which has some kind of short that sends a message every so often that the car door is open, when it isn't. Grrrr . . .) before I can leave.

As soon as I do, I'm on the road to the NY Thruway to say goodbye to my sisters at Order of St. Helena, Vails Gate.

I still can't believe the day has actually come. As you'll read in the story below, they are selling off the convent at Vails Gait as well as the one in Manhattan and consolidating their ministry at the convent in Georgia.

I have so taken advantage of their easy access across the Passaic or 90 minutes up the Pike that it's hard for me to imagine life without them nearby.

I'll be helping them pack up and set up for their "Yard Sale" this week end. I'm bringing my camera so there will be lots of pictures.

Please join me in prayers of thanksgiving for these amazing, brave, intelligent women as they embark on a new ministry.

Episcopal Sisters seek new ministries, new witness in new location

Augusta, Georgia--The Order of Saint Helena (OSH) is beginning the process of refounding itself for new ministry opportunities in a new location, but with the same mission of prayer and service to God's world. The order of Episcopal sisters is closing its two houses in New York City and Vails Gate, NY and consolidating temporarily to its convent here. At the same time they are seeking another location in the United States to begin anew.

"We feel that the Holy Spirit is moving us to relocate to a new area and to re-found our community and mission," said Sister Cintra Pemberton, OSH, a member of the Order's leadership council. "We have written to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops that we are looking for a diocese that will welcome us and for a location that is close enough to a major metropolitan area for sisters who are called to urban ministry. We are also interested in finding a sufficiently natural setting to encourage a contemplative lifestyle."

The sisters also hope to build a purpose-designed, energy-efficient, "green" convent.

"We are in the process of receiving invitations from Episcopal bishops all over the U.S. -- literally from coast to coast, North, South, and Central," said Sister Cintra. "We do not as yet know where we might end up, but we have faith and confidence that God is leading us into new directions for new ministry. In the meantime, we ask your prayers and support as we begin this journey of faith."

The sisters of the Order of Saint Helena voted last August to close their two New York convents and to relocate most of the community (temporarily) to the OSH convent in Augusta GA.

"Our intention for the Vails Gate property is to explore ways in which we can realize appropriate income from the property but also attempt to preserve the beauty of the land," said Sister Cintra. "The Manhattan property will be put on the market for sale in the very near future."

For several years the Order has been facing an increasingly serious budget deficit, as well as a shortage of "sister power" that has been "draining us of the energy we need to do ministry, both to the church and to our own sisters, some of whom are aging and in need of special assistance," said Sister Cintra. "At the same time, we are growing in numbers, and want to provide new ministry and educational opportunities for the women who come to test their vocation with us." The community has had four life professions in recent years, and currently has two novices and several women in vocational discernment.

While the decision to leave New York, as well as Augusta, was made with much heartbreak and many tears, the sisters say they feel the Holy Spirit has led them to this point. "We have been in both the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of Georgia for many years, and the idea of leaving both brings us much pain," said Sister Cintra, "but we recognize that we can no longer afford to operate and staff three convents."

The Order expects nearly all of its sisters will be moved in to the convent here by November. Some sisters are engaged in parish or other ministry and will continue to live outside the convent.

The Order of St. Helena was founded in 1945 in Kentucky, originally as a teaching order, with dedication to prayer, community, and service. From the beginning, the Order has maintained a strong commitment to the integrity and development of individual sisters. Today the sisters engage in various ministries such as spiritual direction, psychotherapy, urban ministry, parish ministry, writing, retreat and pilgrimage leading, icon writing, peacemaking, community organizing, and of course -- prayer. Their rule of life is centered on daily worship in community and following the ancient praying of the hours sometimes called the Divine Office. Several of the sisters are also priests, and one was the first nun to be ordained to the priesthood.

Two years ago, the Order published "The Saint Helena Breviary" using expansive language and eliminating masculine language for God. The monastic edition is designed for use in community settings for singing and praying the hours such as Matins, Midday Office, Vespers and Compline. A personal edition can be used by anyone to follow the calendar of prayer of the Episcopal Church as well as the daily hours of prayer as do the sister in the convent chapel. Many Episcopal churches currently use the "Saint Helena Psalter".

Contact information:
Sr. Cintra Pemberton, OSH
Office phone: 706-798-5201 ext. 205


Ron Miller said...

Well for the bad luck. I was there from Monday afternoon till Friday morning packing and lugging and unpacking stuff for the flea market missing not only the flea market itself but also my dear friend Elizabeth. Arghhhh!

Oh well, there's always another meeting. ron m

episcopalifem said...

I used to live by Vails Gate - 10 mins or so away. I'm sorry to hear this. It's a beautiful area...Here's hoping they will make like phoenixes and rise anew from the ashes...

Hiram said...

I have owned nothing but VWs since 1970 - great cars, but the electricals can drive one nuts...

It is a sad day when a community devoted to prayer has to close up. I guess they are reorganizing, but while the OSH may continue, the places of retreat and prayer used by so many in the NY metro area will not be available for those living in that region.

(Of course, if you go up a few hours to the north, to Greenwich, NY, there is another convent, in a beautiful setting, available for prayer and reflection...)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, Ron!! Are you kidding me? RatzO.

You guys did a GREAT job. I just poked around and helped to price things. Then, I couldn't stand it any more. It just broke my heart. So I took the cappa nigra that I bought from Sr. Benedicta for $5 and went home.

So, Hiram, is that an Episcopal convent?

JCF said...

I'm spoiled, where I live, by having St. Gregory's Abbey so close by.

May God continue to bless the OSH sisters amidst all their comings and goings...