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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Anamchara - the New Monasticism

Anamchara Fellowship (Photo: Wilmington Examiner)
They are a wild and woolly bunch. Then again, what would you expect of a religious order which includes Ms. Conroy?

They really think they can change the world through their devotion to the Trinity, a disciplined life of prayer and service to the people of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Oh, and laughter and a wee bit of mischievous fun. That's due, at least in part, because their spirituality is solidly based in Celtic roots, tempered, as it is, in the Episcopal tradition.

Founded in the State of Delaware in 2003, the Anamchara Fellowship received official canonical recognition from the House of Bishops in 2007.

This new religious order of men and women - married, single and partnered, old and young, black and white, gay and straight - do not live together in either a monastery or convent.

Indeed, they are from "all over the map" - New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, Virginia, Southern Virginia, North Carolina, and Delaware.  (Whew! I think I got them all.)

They communicate with each other frequently through their listserv, "Skype" Evening Prayer once a week together and gather in several local "Parish Life Days" throughout the year, as well as an entire community once a year.

They are meeting this weekend at a retreat center in Paoli, PA. They have grown from nineteen members last year to twenty eight this year.

There are now twelve life-professed members. The others are aspirants or novices. 

Brother Morgan  (Photo: Ms. Conroy)
This year, Bill Shatzabel (AKA "Brother William Morgan") joined the number of those who are life professed.

That's him on the left. The one who is glowing.

He also graduated this month from the four year course of study known as EfM (Education for Ministry). It's been a big year for Bill who has also recently become a member of Redeemer, Morristown, NJ.

Ms. Conroy (AKA "Sister Barbara Clare") describes herself in the picture above as the one with the "angelic face".  It's just my opinion, but I think "Irish angelic face" is an oxymoron.

Ms. Conroy reports that Bill wept when he had to give up his novice cross, but those tears were quickly dried when he learned that his cross would be given to a new novice.

That's the way it is in life, isn't it?

Celtic Cross
According to their web page:
Anamchara is a Gaelic word for "soulfriend". It was the style of formation given to a new monk or nun in a Celtic monastery, whereby the new member would be paired up with an older, more experienced monk. In this way the new Religious would have a more personal mentoring in the monastic tradition. (The Roman or Continental style of formation is more like students together in a class sitting with one teacher for all.) The Anamchara is the model we seek to draw back into our Religious training.

"Friendship is the nature of God. The Christian concept of God as Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship. Jesus is the secret Anamchara of every individual." (John O'Donohue)
Members of the Anamchara Fellowship take three vows:
Simplicity of Life:
+ Having no financial recourse to the Fellowship, but within individual means helping to maintain its organizational needs
+ Seeking to live without a spirit of accumulation
+ Using all things with gentleness and respect, developing a sense of poverty of spirit, whereby we grasp with heart and mind that ALL belongs to God
+ Becoming extravagant with our love and care toward others "He should never refuse assistance to a person who calls with insistence for it. Let him share generously and without measure with the one who asks." (Rule of Ailbe)
+ Living with gentleness of manner toward everyone
+ Renouncing all physical and verbal control over others
+ Constancy toward the one with whom God has blessed us as mate or as Anamchara
+ Consciously striving after peace and mercy for all: "To do justice, to love peace, and to walk humbly with God."
+ Following the Gospel imperatives of love and forgiveness
+ Working within the context of the Church to which the member belongs, seeing the leadership and Councils of the Church as guides
+ Listening for the voice of God in those placed in authority over us in our congregations, dioceses and within the Fellowship.
I think this motley crew is onto something.

Life Professed Members (Photo: Wilmington Examiner)
If you compare the group picture at the top with the picture of those who are life professed, you'll note that the group is getting decidedly younger - and, more diverse.

Indeed, I understand it now takes two and a half hours to get through one of the spiritual exercises, where, in previous years, it only took sixty to ninety minutes.

I suspect that their growth is due to the fact that they are, by their life and work and understanding of 'fellowship', answering a deep spiritual hunger that many people are experiencing.

Clearly, this is one answer, one response to that hunger.  It is not for everyone. And, just because I know you're thinking it, let me just say that no, not everyone wears a habit. They don't always look like "green and cream monkeys and penguins".

And, no, not all the women wear a veil. They do, however tend to"dress up" when they are all together or when they are representing their order in a liturgical function, retreat or parochial workshop. Indeed, I've rarely seen Ms. Conroy in her habit. Actually, I've seen more pictures of her in her habit. And, she never wears the veil.

My experience of many who respond to the Anamchara Fellowship is that there is something missing, something lacking, in their church experience. That may or may not be the fault of the church. It may be due to a need for a deeper experience of community. A more disciplined way of a life of prayer. A way to live out the gospel imperatives for service and mission which they can't do in a local church. A fellowship where they can receive spiritual guidance and have a spiritual companion with a 'soul friend' in a community of prayer and service. 

Some of the members of The Anamchara Fellowship hold pretty impressive resumes. Some are teachers and lawyers. Others are professional musicians (from Opera to Irish music), carpenters and tradesmen.  Several are in the health care professions - nursing, psychology, social work, pharmacology, addictions recovery. One is involved in disaster relief efforts and CPR/Life-saving education for the American Red Cross. Several are hospital chaplains. One - a tiny woman - holds a Black Belt in Tang Soo Do.

All of them are active in their local congregations - Altar Guild, Choir, Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, Social Justice Advocacy and Ministry, Spiritual Directors, Catechetics (Religious Education/Formation), and Parish Nurses. One is a priest, a few are deacons and one is in the ordination process. Several lead retreats and workshops, one has a passion for leading spiritual pilgrimages, and another is a certified spiritual prayer healer.

One would think that would be enough, right? Apparently not. I don't think they are unique or exceptional in having a spiritual hunger for more. Indeed, it is my experience that the deeper you go into the mystery of the Trinity, the more you need something like The Anamchara Fellowship.

We all need 'soul friends', but none so much as those who are foolish - and courageous - enough to think that they can change the world through their devotion to the Trinity, a disciplined life of prayer and service to the people of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Oh, and laughter and a wee bit of mischievous fun. All in the name of Jesus, who is "the secret Anamchara of every individual".

Here, watch this video or click on this link in which Sr. Barbara Jean explains it all.

Well, okay - not "all".

You can visit their website to get more information about this new way of being in a religious community. Click here and check it out.

There is one warning, however: The deeper you go into the mystery of the Trinity, the more you may discover your own hunger for an Anamchara - and a thirst to be an Amamchara with and for others.

And then, you just may have the audacity to think you might be able to join them in their effort to change the world.

Not to worry. It's just an old Celtic trick. The one who will really be changed is you.


Bob Rea said...

+ Renouncing all physical and verbal control over others

I don't understand this. What if you're nurse and need to turn a patient?
What if you are a supervisor of some sort?
What if you're a police officer?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think I know what that means and it doesn't mean what you think. I'm told that the AF folks are all reading this blog so I'll let one of them answer for you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Response from Sr. Barbara Clare:

"These situations, except maybe police officer require involuntary control over another person. It has to do with relational situations with others in which a spirit of cooperation, compassion and generosity are foremost."

Bill said...

These are rules of life relating to interpersonal dealings between members of the community, members of the Church, as well as functioning within society in general. It doesn’t supersede the authority of emergency services personnel or employee / employer relations. These rules are derived from ancient rules of life and are not meant to put us at odds with society but rather put us in harmony with society. They are a code of conduct, if you well, guiding us in how we treat each other.
There is no conflict in dealing with people in authority and people in authority have their own rules on the treatment of others. Those rules are most usually defined in law. As such there are most often serious consequences to abuses of power.
Abuse is what this is all about, we do not abuse others.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Brother Morgan! Congratulations, again. Well done, sir! Well done, indeed!

Frair John said...

I'm a big fan, if that is the term, of the AF. Big events at the Carmel wouldn't be the same without them.

IT said...

My experience of the ordered religious is limited to the RC. nuns of my youth. In a voluntary order like this what does it mean to be "life professed"? I assume that there are some religious orders In TEC that are more monastic as well?

Brother David said...

These are the English translation of the vows under which I live as a solitary* since 9 AUG 1998.

Purity of Heart
Evidenced by the transformation of life through active love for others and the recognition of God's indwelling Spirit in all creation.

Simplicity of Life
Evidenced by a life based on meeting simple needs rather than desires; a life of service to others and a reverence for the earth through the wise use of the earth's resources.

Evidenced by a life committed to following the teachings of Christ; following the promptings of the Holy Spirit and accepting co-responsibility for the life of the community and obedience to its decisions.

Evidenced by a life of the renunciation of violence, force and war; of working to resolve human conflicts with love and understanding; standing in solidarity with everyone who struggles against oppression and working for the protection of the earth.

Universal Citizenship
Evidenced by a life of participation in the world-wide community of all people; respect for the beliefs and culture of all people and struggling for the equality of all people.

*Originally conceived to be a community that has never come into being.

walter said...

I was surprised, Elizabeth, by a much deeper understanding of what it means to experience fellowship. The last time I reflected about fellowship was in the context of Thurman’ Church of All Fellowships. What stands out these days, it seems, that fellowship is an alternative to community whereby the same physical space, living space, is not shared. It certainly reinforces my believe that we are a Queerful Christian Community.

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar - I'm a 'fan' as well. I think FB has influenced our language more than we know. I'm not sure I'm a 'fan' of 'defriend', though.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I think one professes oneself to the community, but again, I'll let one of the AF respond.

I do know that they renew their vows every three years.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Br. David - I think there are probably a lot more "solitaries" than we know or could ever imagine.

I should think it would be difficult to be a solitary but that's more my own personality and passion about community speaking.

God bless you and your deep commitment to Jesus. May God who has given you the will to do these things also give you the grace to perform them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

An interesting distinction, Walter - community vs fellowship. I wonder what the members of the AF think about that.

Bill said...

The question was "what is life professed"
The word "life" is one of those words that can have several different meanings. You (IT) are thinking in terms of time or duration. In this instance we are referring to “existence”. We profess to live our lives according to the rules of the fellowship.
The problem arises because much of the “jargon” of monasticism is ancient in usage and can cause confusion when applying modern usage and syntax.
Prior to the 50’s, to say one was gay would have meant happy or ecstatic; as in the song “Our hearts were young and gay”. In today’s usage it means something entirely different.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks again, Brother Morgan.