My dear Friends,
My Brothers and I have been deeply touched by the messages of concern and hope that so many of you have expressed since we made the difficult decision to close not only the Guesthouse, but also the Monastery Chapel for public worship, during this time of tremendous anxiety.
Never before has a line from our Rule of Life seemed so appropriate. In the chapter on Worship we read that we Brothers offer our worship … on behalf of the entire world. At a time when so many Christians are cut off from physically gathering to worship and celebrate the Eucharist, our life of corporate worship continues. Even though others may not be able to be physically present, your presence is none the less felt. This is especially true at the daily Eucharist and Compline, when we have the opportunity to mention before God so many of you by name. We offer our worship on behalf of the entire world.
Last week we made a recording of Compline which is now online at www.SSJE.org. We invite you to join us, wherever you are, and uphold the entire world in your prayers.
Please know of our prayers for you during this anxious time.
Faithfully in the One who calms our fears,
James Koester SSJE
Have your Lenten goals been overshadowed by COVID-19? Many of us are struggling simply to find normalcy during these unsettling times – to say nothing of approaching the season of Lent with the purpose and intention with which we began it. To that end, we’re happy to share a recent piece by Br. Jim Woodrum on “The Monastic Discipline of Temptation,” which was recently published in the online magazine Earth & Altar. We hope this might invite you to re-embrace your intentions for this Lenten season in a meaningful way.
The Monastic Discipline of Temptation: Why did Jesus face temptation for forty days in the desert? And what has led centuries of monastics to follow him there, seeking to confront their own temptations? In “The Monastic Discipline of Temptation,” Br. Jim Woodrum stalks temptation out into the desert, seeking to understand its true nature. By studying the Christian monastic tradition, he discovers that temptation not something to be avoided, but actually something to be faced – even embraced. Temptation is a tool, by which we can discover what separates us from the love of God. When we study our own temptations, we can strengthen ourselves against their advances. This Lent, Br. Jim invites us to take up the discipline of temptation as monks do, following it as a path to self-knowledge and, eventually, a gateway into a deeper love of God.
Earlier this month, Br. David Vryhof was pleased to be a guest on the “Red Church Door” podcast, talking about God’s invitation to repentance. Follow the link to listen to the full episode (Br. David’s segment starts around minute 20).
From the Red Church Door: “Repentance is a subject that contemporary religion often shies away from. At the same time, there seems to be a natural, human hunger for reflection, recognition of our sins and weaknesses, and repentance. What is the process of repentance? What spiritual practices of repentance bring us closer to God — and why does repentance still matter? Colin’s guests for this episode are, Br. David Vryhof, from Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE) in Cambridge, MA and the Rev. Sandi Albom, Chaplain and Spiritual Director at The Plymouth House in Plymouth, NH.”
If you are following our Signs of Life series, this is a quick reminder that Becky and Br. Jim will share a further conversation on Shelter this evening at 7pm EST/ 6pm CST.
Shelter is even more timely sign right now as our closed churches might not seem to be the shared places of refuge and celebration they normally are. Join us for prayer and conversation.
The Community was pleased to celebrate the clothing of Br. Todd Blackham on Sunday, March 15. While we regretted that the wider public was not able to share with us in the joyful event, it remains a sign of promising and hopeful new life, even in such challenging times. We wish Br. Todd joy as he enters into the next chapter of his religious vocation.
My dear friends:
In our Rule of Life we read in the chapter, The Challenges of Sickness, that we are co-creators with the Holy Spirit who enables us to consecrate every aspect of life as an offering to God’s glory. Even sickness can be transfigured, and become the means by which we experience personally the reality of the Lord’s assurance, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” A brother’s illness affects the whole community and God will provide gifts of grace for us all.
This is surely such a time, when the illness of so many is having profound effects on the entire world. None of us are left untouched by the coronavirus. As each one of us looks for ways to limit and contain the spread of the virus, the Brothers have made two important decisions. Earlier this week, we announced the closure of the Guesthouse and our limiting non-urgent travel, until at least 7 May. Today we decided to close the monastery chapel for public worship. Beginning today 13 March 2020, the chapel will remain closed until further notice. This will, if necessary, include Holy Week and Easter.
While this decision saddens us, we believe that in light of the uncertainty surrounding the virus, it is a necessary precaution, both for the health of the members of our congregations, as well as our staff. The decision was not taken lightly. As the situation changes we will review this decision.
We are now working with the members of our communications team to find ways to audio stream or webcast some of our services.
Please refer back to our website for updates regarding both the reopening of the Chapel, as well as information on how to listen to webcasts of our services.
In the meantime I commend the following prayer to you from the New Zealand Prayer Book:
God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to us
as we wait in uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make us the equal
of whatever lies ahead.
Bring us courage to endure what cannot be avoided,
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God, and we need you.
I remain, your brother in Christ,
James Koester SSJE
We are delighted to announce that Todd Blackham will be clothed as a novice in our Society at Evening Prayer on Sunday, 15 March (4:00 PM). This is a very moving rite of initiation into our Community, as a man puts on the habit, thus marking him as a member of our Community. All are welcome to attend.
Signs of Life
The SSJE Community’s Lenten program, “Signs of Life: Why Church Matters,” is now available for individuals and groups at www.signsoflife.org. The program, a joint effort with the Lifelong Learning Center at the Virginia Theological Seminary, examines five themes – Light, Water, Food, Shelter, and Community – in the light of scripture, the Christian liturgical tradition, and Christian spiritual practice. It seeks to explore the deep meaning embedded in the Church’s sacraments, symbols and practices. A 15-minute video has been produced for each theme, accompanied by two Facilitator’s Guides, one for use with a large class or adult forum, the other for smaller groups that invites more personal sharing. Gather a group of friends (or choose a prayer partner) to watch the weekly video, and use the Facilitator’s Guide to discuss the theme. It’s free and easily downloadable.
Monastic Residency Program to launch in Fall 2020
Many of you will know that for several years we have hosted residential interns. In the Fall of 2020 we will launch a new version of this program specifically designed for graduate students and seminarians. This nine-month residency is for students (both men and women), aged 21 or older, enrolled in full-time graduate study, who would also value living, praying, and working alongside our community for an academic year. Details, and an initial application, are on our website at www.SSJE.org/residency. Questions? Contact us at email@example.com.