I found a real spiritual home at SSJE in 1984, after graduating from college. I’d taught math for a year at the Taft School, then moved back to Boston to work for an actuarial consulting company, designing pension plans. I loved my job, I had a fabulous apartment in the North End, and I loved going to SSJE for the weeknight Eucharist. But at the time I was wrestling with discerning a call to the priesthood: Am I called, am I not called? Do I say yes? When do I say yes? I had all these checklists in my head and I kept making deals with myself: “Once I turn this age… once I accomplish that goal… then I’ll say yes to the priesthood.”
Then one night, a friend asked me to go with her to SSJE’s Tenebrae service during Holy Week. She ended up not being able to go, but I decided to go anyway, since I’d already carved out the time. I remember I sat in the back of the Chapel and couldn’t really tell what was going on. Yet I felt very held by the candles, singing, and psalms. I found myself in this place of being very quiet with God. I had nowhere to hide; I had no worshiping companion that I could turn to and draw into distraction by asking questions about what was going on in the liturgy. I was just there, in the moment, with the Brothers and the singing and the candles – and God. And God was saying, “Okay. What are you going to do?” I realized that every checklist I’d ever made was absurd. I realized that God was God, that I was called to say yes to this.
Ever since that moment, I have felt linked to the mystery of the Chapel. The walls are so soaked with the prayers of countless people on various journeys seeking to hear God and be faithful as they discern next steps, that the space just holds you. And it holds you in a safe enough way that you can dream new dreams. It certainly did that for me: I felt in a safe enough place, held in God’s love, supported by the Brothers, and surrounded by prayer, that I could risk dreaming this dream.
All these years later, the Chapel at 980 Memorial Drive is still my spiritual home, and the Brothers are truly my spiritual Brothers. When I was elected bishop, I lost the sense of having one particular worshiping community that grounded me. In my episcopate right now, I am in a different church in the diocese every Sunday. Every church and worshiping community in Connecticut feeds and nurtures my spiritual journey as I seek to feed and nurture theirs in the name of our Lord. And, one of the reasons why I am able to be so grounded in the diversity of worshiping communities is because of my heart’s significant relationship with the Monastery Chapel. Having a spiritual home is such a huge gift because it grounds me in important ways. My ministry would be very different if I didn’t have that. To know that I am prayed for by the Brothers, some of whom have known me for almost thirty years, Brothers who are so intentional about their prayer and so faithful to their prayer, is a gift that supports me when I am out in various places, doing various ministries. I know that the Brothers are there, praying for the church and the world, sustaining, challenging, and inviting all of us to a closer walk with God and God’s Mission. And I also love that, at SSJE, the Brothers are living God’s mission in the world, witnessing not just with their prayer – and thank God for their prayer – but also by living into so many other wonderful ministries that also make a real difference in peoples’ lives.
– The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Connecticut