Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chapter - and the Aftermath

Chapter (the annual community meeting of the Order of the Holy Cross) was a big deal. No surprise there. We had a lot of very high-profile stuff to deal with, most of which was occasioned by the California Tea fire and the destruction of Mt Calvary Retreat House.

We needed to talk about that, of course, and about the future of our ministry in California, but broader issues of our future, and what we are likely going to be able to sustain was part of the conversation, and what we want our life (and our monasteries) to look like came up for consideration. In addition we had a substantial amount of grieving to do for recent deaths in the community and for the loss of one of our most beloved houses.

To go straight to our conclusions, we made a formal decision to continue our Santa Barbara ministry, for the present, in the way it has begun to move since the fire. We are going to lease St Mary's Retreat House from the Sisters of the Holy Nativity and see if it will prosper under our direction. We need to see if a number of things can be made to happen, not the least of which is whether the ministry will be vigorous enough to be self-supporting. This will mean increasing the number of guests and cutting expenses, and the Santa Barbara brothers have already begun working on both those processes. St Mary's has a great deal going for it: it is very beautiful, with striking grounds and a wonderful view (not Mt Calvary's view, but then, what is?). It is also in a very historic area, right next to the Santa Barbara Mission, and it is quite easy to reach, which Mt Calvary was not. Whether the great affection in which Mt Calvary was held can be transferred to St Mary's and renewed there is what we will need to discover. We are going to give ourselves 3 to 5 years to find out.

One of the most interesting outcomes of our time together was our near unanimity in our desire to have our Benedictine roots express themselves more directly in our buildings. This is something that has been growing in Holy Cross since we acknowledged our Benedictine nature in 1984 and took up Benedict's Rule. We have a history of acquiring great old buildings and making them into retreat houses, with the guests occupying the bedrooms and the community in the servants' quarters. It works, in a way, but it directly mitigates against the development of a strong community life, and in one way or another we always find ourselves living around our buildings instead of having our life facilitated by them. This has been true just about everywhere we have been except West Park, which was built, and has been remodeled over the years, to directly express our life, and South Africa, where the same thing is true. It was clear that at this point we need to work to make this true in all of our locations. We need buildings that will support and nourish our monastic vocation first of all, and then to enable us to carry out the ministries to which we give ourselves. This is going to have direct repercussions in the future of our life at St Mary's, as well as in other of our houses. This is a very hopeful and welcome development in our lives.

The Mt Calvary property will remain as is for the present. It was bulldozed some weeks after the fire and now is grassland. We will continue to evaluate the future of that piece of property as our life develops at St Mary's.

We worked hard. We worked very hard, in fact. And you could see the effects of our days of work in the faces of everyone present. We didn't have the day off that has usually been a feature of our Chapters, and we felt the pressure of that. By the end of our time together, many of us were operating on sheer will power. But we are more united in our vision of our life and the direction in which we are moving. And, in a very hopeful sign for our future, during Chapter our Br Bernard told us he was intending to apply for Life Profession, which announcement was greeted with a hearty and prolonged burst of applause. With any luck, there will be several other such events within a few years.

You may not believe that any sensible person would behave in this manner, but the day after our meetings ended, I spent the day taking John and Andrew to Kennedy Airport to begin their journey back to South Africa. I was in a very curious state when I got back.

Since then it has been recovery time. The next morning I got up, had a cup of coffee, made myself breakfast, and then went back to bed and slept into the afternoon. I have slept well and long and still awakened each morning feeling like I hadn't rested much. I've been unable to make myself do anything productive for most of this time. I have had wonderful intentions, but my body has not been willing to cooperate. Others in the house have been in the same state. Fortunately the number of guests has been low, due to a mix-up in some of the reservations, so the demands on us have been minimal. This morning I woke up feeling rested for the first time. I assume I'm on the way back now.

Which is just as well. The guesthouse will be full beginning Tuesday of this week, largely with a Flute Master's Class, which is always great fun. So here we go again, on our way to summer. The extraordinary weather, with day after day of torrential rain and cool temperatures makes it hard to realize that it's the end of June. Surely that won't be permanent.

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