I am at the end of my first Reading Week of the spring semester at Yale Divinity School, a week given to seminarians to catch up on reading. But I’m afraid I got little reading done. That’s because the Berkeley Divinity School junior year class (first-year Episcopal seminarians) went on a 3-day retreat at the Benedictine Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY, on the west bank of the Hudson River, across from the Vanderbilt Mansion.
The monastery is home to about 12 Benedictine monks who have a ministry of hospitality to people on retreat. They provide housing, meeting rooms and meals, and they invite us to participate in their corporate prayer five times a day: Morning Prayer, Morning Eucharist, Noonday Prayer, Vespers (Evening Prayer), and Compline (late-night prayer). The prayer services contain a great deal of psalms sung in Gregorian chant. You have to imagine about ten monks in white robes singing, “May the Lord frustrate the ways of the WICKed” pause pause pause. “And grant all the wishes of those who WOOOOORship him.” pause pause pause. We did that five times a day. That’s how I reaffirmed that I am a Franciscan.
At the first gathering, Brother Scott introduced himself and asked everyone to say what experience they had had at retreats in monastic communities. Some people had never been to one, whereas others had been to quite a few. I said that I was a member of a monastic order, the Franciscans. Later that night, Brother Scott said he thought the Benedictines were the best. Well! It would be unseemly for a peacemaking Franciscan to wrestle a Benedictine monk to the ground, but I bet I coulda taken him! Then our fearless leader, the Rev. Alfred Tisdale, reminded Scott that a Franciscan was in the room.
Brother Scott recovered and quickly ran down the difference between Benedictines and Franciscans: “The Benedictines are the ones who bring the single malt scotch to gatherings. The Franciscans go outside into the streets and parks and walk up to strangers and minister to them. That’s great, but that’s not my call.”
And I felt such relief when he said that because it is my call to go into the streets and parks–the more crowded, the better. I love working at the registration table at a local church’s food pantry, connecting briefly with clients coming for a cup of coffee and a bag of groceries. Franciscans have a reputation for being nature lovers and animal lovers, and that is very true. But many of us serve in the cities because that’s where so many suffering people are. We love people at least as much as we love trees. A seminarian sitting next to me asked, “Is that true?” I said, “Yes. Franciscans are too poor to bring the single malt scotch to the gatherings, but we are extremely grateful to God for the people who bring the single malt scotch to the gatherings.” And then we go to some beautiful natural setting for a retreat from our work, where, perhaps, we are ministered to by Benedictine monks who like to sing Gregorian chants.
It takes all types. One of the readings at our services was from 1 Corinthians 12, which talks about how the body of Christ comprises many different parts that need to work together, with different gifts and different ministries. And when I looked around at my class of about 40 fellow students, I thought about how true that is. We don’t know each other well yet due to few opportunities to gather for long periods of times in small groups, but we do bring a variety of experiences, beliefs, ministries, and hopes. Contrary to people’s expectations of seminarians, only about 11 of the 40 seminarians in my class are postulants for Holy Orders. Some of the others hope to be and are working with bishops and committees, some are wondering whether they want to be priests, and others plan on lay ministries.
Now that my CPE decision is made (Yale-New Haven Hospital), I am beginning to interview with churches for a field placement next year. Most seminarians do a part-time internship during their middler year of seminary, and Yale Div. School tries to match us with churches that meet our goals for desired experiences. I’m very interested in urban churches that offer a radical welcome to the unchurched and the poor–or to anyone, really–so I am being sent to three very different churches to see if there’s a good match between me, the church, and the supervising priest.
Tomorrow, a group of seminarians and I are going to visit St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Harlem, a church that lives in the shadows of Columbia University, and to interview the priest, one of several ministers in New York City who received a grant for his important work in the community. For someone like me who is interested in urban ministry and renewal, this is a fantastic opportunity to see an experienced priest at work in a neighborhood struggling with economic and health problems.
Somehow, in the midst of all this, I plan to sneak in some studying and some grading of students’ work–not to mention the Winter Olympics!