|Anamchara Fellowship (Photo: Wilmington Examiner)|
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)|
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?
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.Members of the Anamchara Fellowship take three vows:
"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)
Simplicity of Life:I think this motley crew is onto something.
+ Having no financial recourse to the Fellowship, but within individual means helping to maintain its organizational needsFidelity:
+ 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 everyoneObedience:
+ 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.
|Life Professed Members (Photo: Wilmington Examiner)|
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.