Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Notes from Sisters, December 2011

Sr Ellen Francis: Since February of 2011, I have been serving as Priest in Charge of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beech Island SC. It is a great joy and privilege to be a member of their small, friendly, and spirit-filled community. My work at the convent includes serving as Sister for Vocations and Formation, Treasurer, website manager and librarian. I’m currently filling commissions for icons of Saint Hilda of Whitby and of Deaconess Ruth Byllesby, who served as a deaconess at Christ Church in Augusta from 1928 until 1943.

Sr Faith Anthony: I tend to go for a hermit-type job. To me, my main ministry is still art (drawing, calligraphy and photography)/ Ministry of Silly Cards, since this is my way of expressing spirituality. It is such a joy if my cards cheer somebody’s heart.

I started preaching, and I found sermons another way of sharing my heart with others, as well as tackling the Scripture in depth and asking God what God wants me to say. Currently I am trying a position as a Missioner of Metropolitan Japanese Ministry in New York. To my surprise, I enjoy meeting people, guiding Bible gatherings.

I am a board member of St. Stephen’s Ministry, an organization that provides housing, treatment, therapy, education to HIV-infected, low income or homeless individuals so they can go back to the society and resume their lives with dignity. We organize fund raising events (such as dinner/ball, concerts).

Sr Ruth: Following my wonderful September visit with my spiritual director in Mirfield, England, I have been busily keeping up with considerable correspondence. I have concluded that, while NOT an autobiographer, I AM a writer of documents. My latest is one on my experiences as a prisoner pen pal and some-time prison visitor.

That probably covers it for me. I could say a lot more about this “considerable correspondence,” but then I’d be off creating yet another document!!...and I’m not ready for that at the moment.

Sr Cintra Pemberton: I am gradually relinquishing my responsibilities as Sister for Associates. I have enjoyed very much being in that position for a little over two years, but I find now that my illness (cancer) prevents me from doing many of the things I have done in the past. Sister Linda Julian will be taking my position with Associates.

However, I continue active in many ways as my energy and stamina allow. I still try to offer my much-appreciated cooking skills to the community. I regularly attend a knitting group and continue to learn to knit. I’m an active participant in the Magnolia Garden Club and assist in several different service projects. Last year I became a Licensed Lay Minister for the Diocese of Georgia and serve at the altar of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Augusta on a regular basis. I am deeply involved in the Louisiana Wetlands Foundation and will be presenting a major paper on it next spring.

Just before Thanksgiving I made a quick trip to New Orleans to visit a dear long-time friend and also spent time with my daughter Pemmie. I especially enjoyed playing dominoes with my two great-grandsons. I expect to return to New Orleans in mid December to spend the holidays with my whole family.

Sr Linda Julian: I have recently become a Hospice Volunteer, providing respite care and companionship for patients and caregivers. I am grateful to be involved in this important ministry.

I went to Manhattan in September, partly on business necessary for the renewal of my “green card”, but also spent time with good friends in the city and beyond. It is always wonderful to return to Manhattan!

In October I traveled west, to be present in Seattle for the Ordination to the priesthood of the Rev. Catharine Reid, a one-time OSH sister, and a close friend. I was privileged to be an oblation bearer for the ceremony, which was a truly joyous occasion. Sr. Elsie, Catharine’s mother, was also present to see her daughter ordained.

My other “away” event was to spend five days in retreat at our property in North Augusta with my dog Goldie. Needless to say, both of us had a glorious time!

Sr ES: I have continued to do missions in churches: most recently a talk on the Spirituality of Hospitality for the Fall Gathering of the Daughters of the King in Columbia, S.C. in September, and one at St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany in October. I am scheduled for an Advent Evening Program at All Saint’s, Beach Island in December. I take pleasure in talking with the people who come to see me for spiritual direction, and even a couple with whom I speak on the phone, and look forward to helping on the formation team by talking to sisters in process. My share of household responsibilities includes cooking, sacristy and preaching, all of which I see as ministries and which I enjoy. I am working with a publisher on a project to put out my collected poems and one of my poetic dramas, and I have three other writing projects under way.

Sr Linda: In October, I attended a 10-day program in southeast Arizona put on by the Star Foundation ( The program’s intent is therapeutic and offers participants opportunities for personal growth and accelerated healing from many conditions. I attended hoping to learn more about the relationship between physical pain and emotions. While I did not intellectually learn these connections, my psyche and spirit learned what really matters, because day after day during the program and since, I find myself in a continual state of transformation. I’ve never known anything like the Star programs, and I commend them to anyone who feels great emotional suffering.

Sr. Elsie: Sr. Elsie continues to reside at Allisonville Meadows in Fishers, IN near her son, Eric, where she enjoys walks in a nearby park and attending Holy Family Church. In October, Sr. Elsie traveled with Eric and his partner, Gail, to Seattle WA where she was a presenter at her daughter Catharine's ordination to the priesthood at St. Mark's Cathedral. Sr. Elsie had been looking forward to this event for years and was overjoyed to be able to participate fully. In true motherly fashion she even went forward to assist with Catharine’s ritual vesting in chasuble and stole.

Sr Grace: This month (Nov. 2011) is the anniversary of my second year in community at OSH. From inquirer, aspirant, postulant, to novice it has been quite a growth journey. God has opened wonderful ministry opportunities in Augusta, GA, for me as a volunteer chaplain at a local hospital--Georgia Health Sciences (formerly MCG). For further skill development, I have applied to enter their 4-unit CPE program; hopefully, to start Sept. 2012. Travel as a Sister has taken me to England, California, and then to Nassau, on an Associates mission gathering in January 2012.

Some new training at the convent has included choir- and side-leading in the chapel, preaching, and precenting – all equally stimulating challenges to our prayer life together. Believing all things are possible with God, I will request to enter junior profession / first vows (God and community willing) around May 2012. By faith, hope, love and grace, community life at OSH will be an instrument of God to continue to stretch and grow this Sister-in-process.

Sr Benedicta: I have had the great pleasure of a visit from my sister-in-law, Irene Sender, and my neice and nephew, Isabelle and Theiry. We had a splendid short time together and they were a great help to me. I have also been preaching a good bit of late, and enjoyed being able to point out that in spite of the Gospel parable about the “wise and foolish virgins,” the Gospels also say “to them that knock, it shall be opened.”

Sr Ann: This past fall I have been away more than usual and was relieved to realize that I finally felt, at the end of one journey, that I was “coming home”—not just returning to Augusta once again. Several sisters have acknowledged the same sentiment, and it is evident in our chanting of the Offices—we have “come into community” in a deeper sense. I am choir leader and feel much more relaxed in that role. I love returning to our particular words and music in chapel services! When Sr Faith Anthony is in NYC part of each month, I am very active in sacristy work. Mending sacristy linens is one of my delights, as is arranging altar flowers or greens, depending on the season. I’m on the Liturgy Committee, which is a joy.

In our Guest Ministry, I’m the “meeter and greeter” when home. I orient new guests and usually provide suppers. I’m often involved in spiritual conversation with guests, as well as offering “spiritual direction” as a ministry (my model is more like “spiritual companioning”).

Associates Ministry is a continuing passion in my life. I so enjoyed being able to go to St Louis in May, and to Houston and Poughkeepsie (NY) in October to lead Associates Gatherings, including receiving new Associates, meeting some Associates who have known OSH far longer than I, and seeing dear Associates whom I have missed since moving from New York. I keep in touch with some by email or phone calls. The sisters were thrilled early in December to have Meri Maisonet and granddaughter Emily visit us in Augusta! Meri has been an Associate for about 55 years. She lived around the corner from the Vails Gate convent and was a regular at our Sunday dinners. She and her growing children, and then their children, came every Christmas Eve to help decorate our Tree, with Meri’s yearly special blown-egg ornaments. We are glad Meri can now visualize us in our Augusta location, as well as tell others in the mid-Hudson Valley what she was able to see and hear in person.

Quiet Days and preaching are other important parts of my ministry—I enjoy the preparation as much as the delivery. I continue to offer my editing and proof-reading skills on various projects. I usually cook dinner for the community twice a month and am becoming less terrified of ruining food-for-20! I have been very glad to be a member again of the Margaret Hall Foundation Board of Directors, and to be engaged in the work of selecting recipients of our grants to secondary schools which offer innovative programs involving young women.

In October I was able to return to my home state of Nebraska to be present for my dear friend Scott Barker’s consecration as the new Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Nebraska. I was able to share that glorious occasion with a dear childhood friend, and I was also able to spend a whole day catching up with another dear childhood friend. While in Texas, I spent a few precious days in a mini-family reunion, and then while in New York, several memorable days with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, as well as another dear friend who lives in the same apartment building! All of these were balm for my spirit and much-needed vacation days.

This fall I was saddened to learn of the deaths of a friend I had known since birth, and three weeks later of his mother, for whom I was named. Then one of my closest woman friends died and I was able to travel to Louisville, KY to participate in her memorial service. It was a blessing to see so many dear friends from my years of living there prior to coming into the convent. The cycle of Life is connecting more deeply for me with the cycle of the Church Seasons with every passing year. I am grateful for my own good health and energy these days, and I wish all of you healthy and cheering holidays!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (A Painting by Velazquez)

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his - the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? Had spoken, as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face - ?

The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning,

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching
the winejug she's to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

FROM A HOMILY given by Sr. Linda Julian, May 8, 2011
Poem: Denise Levertov, Breathing the Water, New Directions Publishing, 1987
Painting: Diego Velazquez, Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus, c. 1618

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ruth - Who am I?

This post is long, but well worth the read. Sister Ruth is a model of faithfulness for the rest of the sisters (a fact which would embarrass her, but is the absolute truth). As her Lenten discipline, she is reading through the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, and Ezekiel together with a prison-bound penpal.

Ruth submitted the following in response to a request for autobiographies from sisters.

I am an 85-year-old woman, a long-time life-professed member of the Order of St. Helena. As such, my daily routine is: Rise 5:00. To chapel at 6:30 for silent prayer. Matins 7:30. Eucharist 8:00. Breakfast ca. 8:45. I usually spend a goodly part of the morning writing one or more letters and, when my energy runs out, I return to my bed/sitting room to read or work a Fill-It-In puzzle (to which I am addicted).

Noonday office in chapel. 12:30 dinner. Following dinner, I normally return to my bed/sitting room and spend the time reading (see below re: my reading). 4:30 to the chapel for intercessions and silent prayer. 5:30 Vespers. Following Vespers, I return to my bed/sitting room where I ready myself for my supper which consists of an apple, a granola bar, and an Activia yogurt - that last is like a dessert. I then ready myself for bed and, depending on how I am feeling, I go to bed earlier or somewhat later and read for a time. And so to sleep.

That expresses the exterior aspects of my daily life. How do I feel about all of this? The times of silent prayer in the chapel are very meaningful and important to me and I only miss them if perchance I have a doctor's appointment or am ill.

The time spent reading is also very important, having been an inveterate reader all my life. During the day, I rarely read anything recreational - that comes at bedtime. On the stool next to my desk, I have a CD player and occasionally listen to my not inconsiderable collection of CDS (90% classical - I have, for instance, all nine symphonies of Gustav Mahler, one of my favorite composers). On the front end of that stool is a stack of books - usually nothing but spiritual reading (which may include "study-type" reading of a spiritual or religious nature), arranged so that as I sit in my comfortable chair, I can see all their titles. I am usually engaged in two or more books at the same time.

I have a considerable hearing loss. I wish for more social contact with my sisters than I am able to get. I do fairly well in one-on-one conversations, but in groups I find it frustrating. I do from time to time initiate a lunch out with one or another of my sisters.

In general, as a relatively introverted woman, I find my current lifestyle viable, pleasant, and peaceful.

My spiritual life. I have described the outward aspects of that above. But what is my relationship with God and God's relationship with me? As I think the Community is aware, The Cloud of Unknowing and its "sequel," the Book of Privy Counseling (for spiritual sustenance I use William Johnston's translation) are of ongoing importance to me. I am almost always in process of rereading one, the other, or both. That does not mean that I am a contemplative in the anonymous author's understanding. In fact, quite recently, I have come to realize that I am probably not a contemplative, certainly not in his terms. I wish I were, but that is a grace I believe God has not given me. So be it. Nonetheless, those two writings are important to me. I am uncertain that I can explain their "hold" on me.

What I do know is that my faith in God remains steadfast, may He be praised. Just what the nature of that faith is, is something else I am unable to explain. I am repeatedly amazed at the ineffability of God. The gift of "Jottings" [NOTE: "Jottings" is a series of messages that Ruth received as a "download" from above some years ago] has been a tremendous one. It gives me daily nourishment of my spirit, even after these more than thirty years since the Holy Spirit gave it to me. And having in the course of 2010 been given its memorization has meant that it or portions of it are always available to me at all odd moments and in all kinds of situations. I rarely revert now to the printed copy. While I have several favorite parts of it (which parts are not favorites?), my probably most favorite bit is "Ineffable God, Lover of my soul." Non-favorite parts: the first two lines, which constitute a definition of apophatic prayer, a word with which I do not think I was acquainted at the time the Holy Spirit dictated "Jottings" to me.

I still have not responded to the question I posed two paragraphs ago: what is my relationship with God, and God's with me? It is possible that I must leave that up to God to answer. From my vantage point, I think it is a good relationship, but who knows what He/She thinks? And that is far more important than what I think.
Another aspect of all that I have said.

At the age of 85, I am well aware that I am coming down the home stretch of my life on this earth. How much longer I shall continue here only God knows. I have no known serious illnesses nor other known mortal problems. While my choice would be to wake up one morning to discover that I am no longer here, that again is God's choice. I do not fear death, and am hopefully ready and shall be ready for it when it comes.