Learning to Live Well in Community: An Opportunity for Women
(by the Rev. Frances Drolet Smith, Rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Dartmouth, N.S. and an Oblate of SSJD)
Today many Christians are seeking fresh ways to express ancient truths. The Sisters of St. John the Divine (SSJD), an Anglican order based in Toronto, is planting new seeds of community life and mission, renewing the monastic life both in the church and for the church.
Companions on an Ancient Path, an 11-month program begun in 2016, invites women of any denomination, age 21 and up, to spend a year in spiritual formation, learning to pray, serve others and study while living among the Sisters in intentional community.
Why would anyone, much less a woman in her twenties or thirties, want to embark on such an adventure? The experiences of those who embraced the program in its inaugural year bear witness to the program’s value.
Amanda Avery, a Companion last year and a director of a program for low income children in Halifax, described her time in the Companions program as “exciting, stressful … yet joyful”. She went on to say “The experience has changed me and has given me new insights and new ways to look at not just God, but myself and my community and the people that are in my community.”
Another participant, Christine Stoll, and mathematics teaching assistant, found the Benedictine balance of the Sisters’ life formative. “Living here, for me, has been good and healing,” she said. “In terms of discernment, I wasn’t expecting to have everything all figured out at the end of this year, but I think I have a clearer sense of what it is I need to do.”
SSJD’s community life is based on the 6th century St. Benedict’s Rule which has guided individuals and groups of people to live well in community by engaging in a balanced life of prayer, work, study and leisure. Benedict invites his readers to “listen with the ear of your heart,” an invitation welcome in a noisy world. This early monastic rule is part of the Wisdom tradition of Christianity and is firmly rooted in and inspired by the Scriptures. Despite its antiquity, it remains fresh for our time for it is primarily a guide to daily life lived in Christ, and is a call to live such a life extraordinarily well with others.
Living is an often hectic existence. Despite our being instantly connected to people and events half way around the world through an assortment of technologies, individuals can feel increasingly disconnected from others. While the internet offers an on-line community for every interest, it lacks tangible, in-depth human interaction. Though products such as Facetime and Skype offer visual community in real time, the warmth of human proximity remains illusive. Living in an intentional community provides that face-to-face contact.
Those who engage the Companions program step into a challenging daily rhythm of prayer, study and service, and no doubt, participants will be surprised by what they discover about themselves. Alongside their personal spiritual quest, a key aspect to being a Companion is committing to a life lived fully, faithfully and authentically with others. Community life, both inside a Convent or out in the world, calls us to be our best selves. Where better to discern gifts and explore call than within a community already engaged daily in those very things and whose members have insights to share.
Maria Potestio, currently in the Companions program and formerly a Customer Relations Co-ordinator for a bank, has found the program to be a life-changing experience. “Through the acceptance and love of the sisters, I have been able to see God’s love for me in a way I never saw it before. I am learning to be more vulnerable, open and honest with myself which has been healing.”
Alice Chiu, another participant, appreciates the convent as “an oasis in the city,” particularly in her vocation as a hospital chaplain. “Companions have a schedule similar to the sisters which at the beginning felt overwhelming. But after several months, I am learning how to find balance in the program. I go to the chapel ten minutes before each daily service and let the Spirit hold me in a few moments of peace. It is in the silence and stillness that I feel God is really near me. Spending time in nature, in the garden or the labyrinth, also grounds me, and makes me feel more able to give myself to my work.”
The 2018-2019 cohort begins in September. A woman interested in exploring the Companions’ program may request a detailed Program Description, application and further information from the Companions’ Coordinator, Sister Constance Joanna, by e-mailing email@example.com or phoning 416-226-2201, ext. 316. Applications will be considered anytime before June 15.
The Sisterhood of Saint John the Divine is a contemporary expression of religious life within the Anglican Church of Canada, founded in 1884. The SSJD is a prayer and gospel-centered monastic community bound together by the call to live out the baptismal covenant through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
For more information about being a Companion, visit http://ssjdcompanions.org/ and these social media sites: