Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Silent Retreat - Final day with Reflective thoughts

Morning Prayers:
I awoke several times in the night again. At 4:40 am I was up and walking out the door. The sun had not risen yet, but again, the rest of creation certainly was making itself known. Morning prayers were pretty much the same as two days ago. Thirty minutes long with chants and readings. I especially like this morning’s reading on joy. Joy is expensive…very interesting. The sisters were not around, probably recovering from jet lag, and I noticed a couple of other guests decided to take the morning off. After prayers it was my final quiet breakfast. English muffins with that wonderful honey and raisin bread with honey. Delicious. I noticed the sisters had their napkin rings with names on them. This is going to be a crowded dining hall for the next week. I left the dining hall and made my final trip back to my room. Peaceful, quiet, and tranquil. It’s now time to clean up, pack up, and take my time driving through the mountains on my journey home. It’s 6:10 am…..any of you awake yet? : ) Closing Thoughts:
As my stay here draws to a close I wanted to comment on my time here. I’ll begin by saying that I’m not monk material (nor am I farmer material either BTW). This sort of quiet is not how God wired me. It was certainly good to come, pause, and reflect, but now it’s time to get back to my noisy family and somewhat busier life. I get the idea of monastic life, but am still not completely convinced of its value. The brothers do good work in Mexico with their sisters, and maybe some things around the Weston area, but staying in their monestary for 90 % of their week, praying four times each day, still doesn’t seem like the life God called us to. I do think Weston Priory has value in that others can come and find a place to be silent and listen for God’s voice in their lives, but I also got the sense that these brothers are revered a bit more than any one Christian should be. I learned a great deal from the prayer times, and my times of quiet, and for that I thank God. I come away from this time with a greater understanding of the need for times of quiet in my life, but I'm one who doesn't need to come to a Priory to experience it, I don’t think. I learned that my way of quiet is not the same as this monastic way, and that's ok. We are all created differently, the key is to find times of quiet in one's life for focus on God. I like driving and exploring God’s creation. I’m looking forward to doing that on my way home. That is relaxing, and almost a spiritual encounter for me. Would I come back here again? I might, but am really not sure. Others who are wired for this sort of experience (my other guest mates) seem to truly enjoy it. I grew from it, but at times it was more of an endurance thing than something I was enjoying. Quite honestly quiet is difficult for me (stop snickering all those who know me), but this experience has given me a framework for incorporating more quiet in my life - in my own way. I will take this experience and remember it for a long time (I have the pictures to help me: ) ).

Silent Retreat - Day 4

Morning Prayers and Breakfast: This morning prayers were at 6 am. I awoke at 4:30 am for some reason, but it was good to be able to get an extra hour’s sleep. : )

(Sunrise at Weston Priory)

Morning Prayers lasted 30 minutes this time. There were more singing of Psalms and other chants, as well as a reading from the Gospel of Mark. At a certain point in the service we all walked up to a bowl of still water and cupped our hands in and either washed our face, part of our face, or just our hands, depending on your preference. I am not sure what this was for as it was not referenced anywhere, but I’ll see if I can find out. There was another part in the service which was filled with quiet. A good 10 minutes of nothing. No noise and pretty much no movement. The desire is to be at one in the quiet. I could hear/feel my heart beating it was so quiet. I confess I struggle with the concept of being at one in the quiet, but that may be just a product of who I am. There were a few more cars were in the parking lot this time, with more guests. They sure do like to get up early. I sat by a window and let the morning sun bathe my face. It was nice, peaceful, meaningful. After prayers, it was breakfast time; again, all done in silence. I’ve learned that this silence is actually getting to me. Many here seem to relax in the silence while doing things, but I seem to be on edge at times. I am afraid to make noise in the fear that I’m disturbing something. Everything that is done is done slowly and intentionally, and every sound that is made seems much louder than it might be if this quiet wasn’t going on. Maybe that’s the intent, but I am discovering that the monastic life would be a real struggle for me. Interestingly, even eating seems slower than usual. I’m now back in my room and finishing up this morning’s entry. I’ll finish up another blog, read from the Psalms a bit more, and then I’m heading into town to discover the shops that are there. There’s only so much walking and staring at the pond that this guy can do, and I’m ok with that. : ) Morning and Lunch with Midday prayers: I spent the morning sightseeing. I noticed on the map that there was a Peru, Vermont, and since we do mission work in Peru, I just had to get a picture of this place for Pepe. There's not much to the small little town. I then travelled to a ski hill called Magic Mountain. A pretty big place. I’ve noticed a couple of ski hills which I’ll pass by tomorrow on my way home.

(Peru General Store. That and 3 houses make up Peru, Vermont)

Travelling back I stopped in Weston, about 4 miles from the Priory. They have a general store there that sells, well, pretty much anything; from tea pots to candy to clothing. Much of it was old in nature. They did have some candy, and popcorn that you pop right off the kernel, so I got that for the kids. I also bought some smoked cheese to take home…..they make such good cheese here.

Back at the Priory, lunch was its usual affair. GREAT food, eaten in quiet, to the reading of Obama’s book. Midday prayers were at 2:30 today, I took a brief nap between them and lunch. At 2:15 it was back to the chapel for a 10 minute prayer time, and then back to my room. Only 7 of the brothers were present this time. I heard that the sisters from Mexico will be arriving here sometime this evening to be present for the funeral next week, so I think the other brothers went to get them. It’s a two hour drive to the airport. Well, I’m off to do some reading outside. It’s a VERY hot and windy day today. TTYL. Evening Prayers, Supper and night Prayers: Ah, a wonderful afternoon. I spent some of it reading a book just for me, and then talked with one of the guests for a time. I was intrigued by what goes on here, and he has been coming here for 20 some years, so was willing to answer my questions. I discovered the following: The water was just a symbol for life. There have been no brothers who have taken vows here in about 20 years. All have come here already with vows. The youngest brother is 50. This man was excited to be here and loved the services. I couldn’t quite say the same thing, but that's ok. The brothers rarely leave the grounds, except to go to Mexico or the odd trip to visit someone for dinner on Sunday’s. This is a unique monastery. It’s more open to trying new things, unlike some of the more conservative ones (apparently the brothers do a dance on occasion). Many Catholics love coming here and many have come here year after year. Interesting stuff. We had our evening prayers at 5:30 pm and this time the brothers were wearing their darker robes. Thirty minutes later and we were done. I found this time to be more worshipful as I get used to what the brothers are doing. Dinner was next. I found myself sitting at a table all by myself this time. Some of the other brothers were missing so we were moved to the right, and I was at the end. Maybe because I was the newest guest? Not sure. Night prayers were right after dinner at 7:00 pm. Once done, I walked back to my room, and am now completing this blog entry. It’s HOT in my room. No air conditioning, and no air flow, but I try to think cool thoughts. : ) Tomorrow I’m up at 4:40 am for morning prayers, breakfast, a closing blog comment, and then it’s in the car for the journey back home. I’m looking forward to taking a different route home through some more mountainous terrain.
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Silent Retreat - Day 3

Morning Prayers and Breakfast: I slept okay last night, but woke up several times what with a new bed and the fear of sleeping in. No need for my alarm clocks, as I was awake at 4 am and didn’t sleep. I discovered that it begins to get light at 4:30 am here. I got up, dressed, and walked out the door, or should I say doors, into the cold morning air. The world around me was just waking up. The sound of the pebbles beneath my feet was nice. The chapel bell rang, calling us to prayers. All was still. As an aside, one of the female guests drives to the chapel, and she just happens to have a hybrid vehicle. As she drove past, the car was running on battery power. Even the vehicles here operate in silence : ). This morning there were the guests (well, most of us anyway) and a couple of others who came by car from somewhere around. The brothers came in slowly. This time they were all wearing white collarless shirts. I’m guessing that’s to signal the beginning of a new day. They sat on pillows in the meditative position (well, most did) and everything began in the dark, and quiet. A brother eventually struck a match and lit several candles randomly placed in front of some of the brothers. There might have been a reason for the placing, but I wasn’t aware of why. A rain stick was the first thing we heard, then a flute, and then several native drums. Eventually the guitars chimed in and the brothers began their chanting songs. They brought in the new day. A reading about Jesus’ washing the disciple’s feet and the significance of serving took place, as did a reading from the gospel of Mark. After each reading or a song, a different candle was extinguished, with the candle at the centre being the last one. After 30 minutes the brothers left in silence, as did we. Breakfast at the Priory is more of an informal affair. It goes from after prayers until 7:30 am. All of it is done in silence. I’m discovering that that’s not an easy thing for me. The meal consisted of breads, jams, English muffins, coffee and cereals. I had a couple of English muffins with honey that I think came straight from the bee hive. It was delicious. Not sweetened. Only a couple of us were in the dining room this morning. Many of the brothers were not. We watched the sun rise through the windows. I washed my dishes and then walked back to my room. It was 6:00 am. My family was still fast asleep back home. I had blogged for a bit and it was 6:45 am. My family was just getting up. As I type this, a robin is watching me just outside my room window. It’s like I'm not even here. Well, the whole day is ahead of me. What to do now? Hmmmm……… Lunch and Midday Prayer: Okay, I confess, I went back to bed for a couple of hours. It’s not uncommon for the guests to do that. I was awakened by the sound of one of the brothers mowing the meadow in front of my window. I got up and decided to take a walk. Before the walk, I rummaged through our kitchen and discovered cookies and fruit for the taking. I did just that. Sustenance necessary for my walk. I walked out the doors and instead of going left, to the Priory, I went right not knowing what I would find. I walked for about a half hour up and down some pretty good hills. Small homes, or maybe cottages, dotted the road. As I walked in the mountains of Vermont, the words of Psalm 121 came to my mind: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

I soon heard the sound of a flowing stream and sure enough, I found one. I went down to the water’s edge and put my hand in. It was cold. I sat there for a time, drinking in the sound of the water flowing downstream. I opened my Bible and began reading more of the Psalms. As I did so, I was struck with the thought that these Psalms were similar to the chants I was hearing during prayer times. Especially Psalm 136, which continually repeats the line, “His love endures forever.” This tradition is much older than I really know.

After spending some time by the stream, I continued my walk. I discovered the main road and decided to walk it back to the Priory. I had 45 minutes before lunch, and made it just in time. We gathered in the small meeting room again. I met a couple who had prepared the lunch for us. Apparently they do this every Wednesday. I also learned that they both had their spouses die, and they met at the Priory while attending services and eventually they got married to each other. The brothers like to joke about that. I also met another lady who’s been coming here every year for 20 years, with another lady friend. Twenty years….I’m not sure if I could do that. We entered the dining room again, in silence. The meal was wonderful, consisting of homemade bread, vegetables, and meat. We once again sat in silence and one of the brothers continued the reading. I do find this sort of format interesting. You concentrate better. It is awkward at times and I didn't always know where to look because I knew I wasn't going to get a response back from anyone : ). The bell rang out after about 30 minutes. I talked with another of the male guests for a bit, and then it was back to my room. I found the phone and called my wife to let her know I was still alive. Then it was back to the chapel for midday prayers. More visitors were present this time. The brothers all walked in together in their regular clothes. No candle this time and everyone stood as the brothers came in. There were more chants, but no reading. The guests sat down in a strange spot during the service, and if I was the only one there, I wouldn’t have known to sit down at all. Good thing others knew what to do. In 10 minutes we were finished. This was a nice way to acknowledge God in the middle of the day. The brothers are constantly brought back to focus on God, his goodness, love, and mercy. At 5:15 pm will be the Eucharist Service. That happens on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. I’ll let you know what happens. It’s now time to read, or blog another book, or listen to music…..hmmmm….. Evening Eucharist, Supper and Night Prayers. For the afternoon I decided to blog about a book I just finished about people leaving the church (look for the entry entitled “Quitting Church” if you are interested). At 5 pm I made my way back to the chapel for the celebration of the Eucharist. I felt a bit like a fish out of water this time, not having ever been to a Eucharist celebration before. The brothers came in together, this time dressed in what I would say was more traditional monk attire. Light brown flowing gowns with the large hoods at the back. A table was set up on the upper floor, with chairs set up in a circle just in front of us on our level. The room was pretty much full this time. It was interesting to note that many people seemed over the age of 55. Not sure why, but maybe a lot of retirees just happen to live around here. This chapel time took 1 hour. There were many Psalms sung, and several homilies by different brothers on the meaning of the Eucharist for them. Two things that stuck out for me were the thought of letting go because we no longer have the physical Jesus with us, and a twist on the thought of the ascension of Christ as not necessarily being literal in the same way of his coming back but that Christ comes back to us each time we serve another. We soon entered into the celebration time of the Eucharist. Flat bread was used, as was real wine. The brothers partook first, standing in a semi-circle on the raised area. The rest of us gathered in front. We each took a piece of bread and ate. Then we moved to a station where one of the brothers gave us the cup. I drank, but was a bit uncomfortable drinking from the same cup as all the others. After the service it was dinner once again with pretty much the same fare as yesterday evening. The cheese was VERY good, and this time we had fresh baked raisin bread…yummy. We heard the continued reading from President Obama’s book. After dinner I spent some time by the pond, drinking in the sites and sounds. Then I walked back to my room to get my sweater so I wouldn’t be so cold after night prayers. About 10 minutes later it was back to walking the half mile back to the chapel for evening prayers. This seems like a nice way to close out the day; thanking God for the day. All in all about 10 minutes long again. I noticed 2 large bowls of water and towels set up, but we didn’t use them. I guess we’ll find out what they are for tomorrow. Then, it was the final walk back to my room. Whew, a lot of walking today. It was a good day, however. I’m off to grab a shower, set my alarm for 5:40 am (we get to sleep in an extra hour tomorrow, yippee), and end the day with some Psalm reading of my own. Thank you Father, for this day. It was good to spend it in contemplation. Grant me rest and renewal for what lies in store for me tomorrow.

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Silent Retreat - Day 2

Arrival: After another wonderful time of driving through the mountains, I came to Weston, Vermont. The Weston Priory is 4 miles outside of Weston, and since I was a bit early for my 2 pm arrival time, I drove another 4 miles into Weston. If you blink you miss it, that’s for sure. A very small place, but I learned a bit later that there are a couple of places I need to visit before I leave.

I drove back to Weston Priory, taking a left off the main road and up a long steep driveway.

As I crested the hill a cross greeted me to my right with several small buildings in the background. I parked my car and tried to figure out where to go to meet someone. There were a couple of people sitting around a pond on plastic chairs, soaking in the surroundings. They didn’t seem like people who would have the answers to my questions, nor did I want to disturb them. I walked to a small courtyard that said Visitor’s Centre and Gallery shop. The Visitor’s Centre was deserted. The Gallery shop had business hours on it, so I presumed someone was inside. There was. A kind lady behind a counter greeted me and called up a brother to let him know I had arrived. She directed me to a place to meet him. I was greeted by brother Alvaro and given a key to Romero House, the place I would call home for the next 3 days. This brother seemed to think I had been to Weston Priory before, but I hadn’t. Supposedly I have a twin somewhere, because this is NOT the first time this has happened. I just wish I knew who and where he was : ). Settling In: I was shown the dining room and told of some procedural stuff and then departed from this brother and drove a ½ mile down a dirt road to Romero house. I gathered my few belongings and entered.

A musty smell greeted me mixed with a sweet smell. I walked the hallway, and then down a couple of steps to another doorway,
I opened this doorway, only to discover another one down another flight of steps. which I opened with a key. This was Romero House. I proceeded to figure out which of the five rooms would make my resting place, eventually picking one on the end. I walked through the door and down yet another set of steps (we are on hills you know) to my small, plain, single bed room. Simple would be the best way to describe it. No pictures on the walls and just one desk with a single lamp and some reading material for me. There was also one chest of drawers and a small night table with a tall lamp beside it. In the corner was a single bed. I opened the large curtained window and there before me was a wonderful scene of a mountain and small meadow. I unpacked, and began to feel the overwhelming sense of quiet that was now upon me. I took a moment to walk down the small hallway where the other rooms were located. A total of 5 bedrooms are in Romero House for men to come and spend time at Weston Priory. There are three bathrooms complete with showers. Down another flight of stairs there is a full kitchen, which I presume the guests can use, as well as a living room area. Around the room are bookshelves with various books for reading; and that was pretty much it. The key here is quiet, and in the quiet, much can be heard, like the floors creaking a great deal in my room. The sound is unnerving in the quiet. Soon two other men arrived, and in the quiet, they could be heard quite a lot. : ) Exploring: Once I settled in and read some preliminary information about prayer times, eating times, etc., I walked back to the Priory to investigate. This Priory is open to guests, and prayer times are open to the public, which is somewhat unusual for a Priory from what I’ve read so far. The public is only allowed to be in the Stone Chapel, where prayer happens, the Visitor’s Centre, Gallery Shop, Barn Chapel and Pond Area. The dining room is only open to the brothers and those guests staying at the Weston Priory.

(The Chapel to the left and behind it is the dining room and the monastery where the brothers live).

(Visitor's Centre. It consists of a small, cold room with some couches and tables. Cozy for talking, and one of the few places you are allowed to talk.)

(The Gallery Shop where lots of stuff is for sale)
(The Barn that is used in the summer time by the brothers for prayer times because bigger crowds come.)
I returned to the Gallery Shop to see what was inside. There were books to purchase, crafts made by the brothers, jewelry and beads for sale from a partnering mission place in Mexico, and music CD’s produced by the Weston Priory Brothers. Apparently their music is popular.

I bought a CD, a book about the history of the Priory for later reading, and some Vermont Maple Syrup made by the brothers. The lady at the cash register was very kind, so I talked with her for a while (sorry folks, but the quiet times are only at certain times, not straight through : ) ).

I learned that there are 12 brothers at this Priory at present. One just died in December, and the funeral for him will be held on May 30th. This place will be filled with 100’s of people on that weekend. I learned that these brothers have all made their full vows now, and are here for life. It seems to be about a 4 year process to get to that point. At times there are more brothers here, but not all have taken their full vows, and some only stay for several months or years, then move on to other things. While here, the brothers devote themselves to prayer, contemplation of the Scriptures, and other things like: Raising sheep, growing vegetables, managing a tree farm, making maple syrup when in season, musical composition, cloisonné enameling, silversmithing, weaving, and graphic arts. Familiarizing myself with Weston’s Philosophy of ministry: After my time in the Visitor’s centre, I walked back to my room where I read through a brief history of “The Benedictine Monks of Weston Priory.” I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have many questions about the monastic life. What purpose does it fulfill? How influential are the brothers in the outside world? What do they do (that one was already answered)? I figured a read through the history might help me understand more, and it did. The Weston Priory began in 1953 by Abbot Leo A. Rudloff, of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, Israel. It can trace its origins back to the sixth century rule of Benedict of Nursia. The purpose of this Priory is to “distill the values of the Gospel, the monastic tradition, and the lived experience of communities as a guide for present and future generations.” This Priory began as an abandoned farmhouse, and over the years has grown to several buildings and homes for guests. The brothers of the Weston Priory “seek to create and nurture a community of fraternal love and service; to be persons of prayer, celebrating faith in worship, silence, and reflection; to embrace Gospel hospitality by welcoming all who come as Christ, and by receiving the hospitality of others, especially those who are marginated. They seek to live by the work of their hands, sharing their gifts for the good of all; to be a sign of the Beatitudes through a life of non-violence, justice, and peace, and by responding to the voice of God in the cries of the poor.” The Weston Priory has matured over the years, not just being content to live life in isolation. They have “a greater openness to the contemporary world, and to deeper involvement with others. [They] expanded their hospitality facilities, provided for group dialogues with guests, and deepened the accessibility and inclusiveness of their prayer.” As a result, many have come “to experience the Priory as a safe and welcoming place.” As I read further, I began to see some parallels between this Priory and our own church, Calvin. Weston Priory began a “reverse mission” with friends in Mexico. They encountered the Latin American Church and soon “discovered themselves being evangelized by the poor.” We have a church in Peru that we are partnering with, and some of these results are happening at Calvin too. Cool! Through that experience they have become active in the causes of social justice. We at Calvin also have a strong sense of engaging in social justice issues. Weston Priory also discovered “a deepening awareness that the roots of the impoverishment of the Third World are to be found here in the First World…. through visiting shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, half way houses, and prisons, the brothers encountered the suffering, pain and despair of the homeless, the abused, and the abandoned people in our neighboring towns and villages.” That has been more of a struggle for us at Calvin, but certainly we are aware that there are homeless in our city and marginalized people that we need to become more in touch with. The Priory decided to encourage “one another to develop those gifts which are both expressive of their persons as well as other-enriching.” At Calvin we encourage everyone to discover their unique gifts and use them for the Kingdom of God. There seems to be some similarities after all. I was encouraged by reading the History and have come away with a better understanding of this Priory’s methodology. I still have questions as to impact, but I’m trying not to judge.

Prayer Time: After taking a brief rest on my bed I set two alarm clocks for 4:30 and 4:40 am to ensure I get up for morning prayers. I then walked back to the chapel for 5:30 pm prayers. As I walked, I heard the wind rustling through the trees. It felt Holy for some reason, like the Holy Spirit was walking with me to the chapel. I saw one of the other male guests walking ahead of me, and was reminded that, as Christians, we are all on different journeys, but all going for the same destination.
I was a bit early, so I took a moment and walked to the pond. I sat beside an apple tree in full bloom, and in the quiet I could hear a swarm of bees pollinating the tree. Amazing to listen to. A mountain off to my right was gloriously illuminated by the sun that was beginning to set. Cars began arriving and people made their way to the chapel.

Being a first timer, I hung back and watched and learned. As we entered the chapel, the guests sat in the back. There were about 20 or so. The brothers came in one at a time. Each was dressed in a dark gray robe with black over tunics. As they entered, they bowed to the cross at the front in the centre of a raised, polished wooden floor. On either side were wooden benches, with seats which fold down or angled up. A lone candle was lit at the left side of the chapel, and eventually all 12 brothers took their seats. Everything was silent. Our chapel time took about 30 minutes. There was no speaking, except for a short reading by one of the brothers from the book of Romans. This reading intrigued me. It wasn’t the fact that it was from the book of Romans, but that it took on new meaning in the context of this setting. The silence seemed to allow the words to speak ever more clearly to me. There seemed little to be in the way of interference, though I must admit I think my mind is still moving much faster than it should be. Everything else was done in song. It was noted in our information packet that all song was supposed to be harmonious, so no singing in parts was allowed unless noted by the brothers. No voice was to stand out from any other. Harmony of a different sort was how things worked here. As someone who loves to sing parts, this came as a bit of a hard thing to manage, but I’m here for the experience, so I went along.

Two guitars were the only instruments used, but often times the chants were acapella. One funny thing I noted (sorry, I do notice the absurd at times) was that many of the brothers were yawning during the prayer time. I couldn’t help but chuckle inwardly, knowing that they probably had good reason, what with having to wake up at 4:30 each morning for morning prayers…. I knew that I too would be yawning right along with them in the days to come. : )

(The entrance to the Chapel)

(Inside the Chapel. The brothers entered from either side of the cross in the centre, using the chairs on either side.)
(The red chairs are where the guest sat as they observed and participated in prayer times. Guests were only allowed in the chaired area.)

(A close-up of the chairs used. They fold up and on an angle so the brothers can lean against them.)

Dinner Time: When prayers were completed, the brothers left in silence and those of us who were guests staying at the Priory moved to a small room off to the left of the chapel to await the dinner bell. Here’s where things got rather social, which I wasn’t expecting. My vow was to stay silent for the time I was here, unless someone spoke to me. Well, someone did; another of the guests. I didn’t want to be rude, so I engaged in small talk for a bit and then went back to quiet. More guests came in, and then some of the brothers too. They all began talking with each other. Some of the guests had been to the Priory multiple times and were known by the brothers. Well, I figured I might as well get to know some of those staying here, so I chimed in too. I met a female Episcopal priest, a chaplain from a small college in Maine, a man who serves with Jesuit Priests and a woman who had just done her Masters Thesis on this Priory and was back to do her PHD dissertation on it. I also met two of the brothers. I discovered that a couple of the brothers are actually from Canada. One from Calgary, Alberta to be exact…imagine that!

Dinner was soon ready, and we all walked into the small dining room. Tables were arranged in horseshoe fashion. The brothers were all waiting for us. We ate buffet style, so we grabbed our plates and began taking our food. There was homemade vegetable soup, salad, cheese, bread, homemade peanut butter, and fruits. We were all told where to sit. I had my name on a napkin ring; how’s that for service : ). Table arrangements had the brothers at the head of the horseshoe, and the 5 female guests on one side, with we 3 male guests on the other. We took our food in silence, and sat in silence. One of the brothers opened with a prayer.

(The Brothers sat in this horseshoe portion)

(The women sat at the end, and our food was placed on this long table to the right.)
( I sat in the middle on the opposite side, with two other male guests flanking me.)
One of the brothers, who was seated in the corner at a table with books, read to us while we ate. He read an entry from Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope which was written before he was President. It talked about his visit to Iraq and his thoughts of the war around 2005. Interesting to hear. About 20 minutes of reading passed before a small bell was rung by one of the brothers. We were then allowed to talk and things got social again. The brother who read was now allowed to eat, in silence. Reflection Time: Dishes were brought to the kitchen, and some of the guests helped with drying and washing. I decided to wait until tomorrow to offer my services and walked to the pond and listened to all the sounds of creation around me. The bullfrogs began to croak, the birds continued to sing, and the pesky bugs came out to harass me. I took a walk down the steep driveway to get away from the bugs. As I stood at the end of the laneway, with no traffic coming from either direction, I felt small in the vast world of God’s creation. I walked back up the hill, and sat and read my Bible for a time. I’ve decided to read out of the Psalms while here. God spoke to me about resting in his love, not in the possessions or trappings of this world.
I then walked to see the sheep for a time.

I must have spent 15 minutes just staring at these sheep. They sensed me, and slowly made their way to the fence near me. Sheep! They took on new meaning for me in those 15 minutes. We are compared to sheep in the Bible. Sheep aren’t the smartest animals in the world you know, yah, you know! All we are like sheep, each going his / her own way…. these sheep were doing that too. No rhyme or reason to their wanderings. Lost little animals. Amazing to sit there and watch sheep! Evening Prayer Time: It was time for 8 pm evening prayers. We walked in once again, though our number only being 6 this time in the guest category. The chapel was dark, and very quiet. The bell was rung to announce prayer time, and this time the brothers came in together. They were not wearing their robes, just clothing like we would wear. The lone candle was lit in the centre of the floor close to us. A couple of chants were done with and without guitar, and the brothers didn’t sit, but leaned against the wall against their angled boards while we sat. The whole thing took about 10 minutes. It was a nice closing to the day. The brothers thanked God for the day, for the work that was done in the day, and prayed for the oppressed of the day. They exited in silence, and then quietly prepared for Morning Prayer time by setting things up. We exited, and went our different ways in quiet. Bed Time: That brought me back to my room, which is where I am right now. I’ve blogged enough. It’s 10:20 pm, and time for bed. I trust that these words have helped you experience what life is like here at the Weston Priory so far. Stay tuned for more. As I prepare for rest, these words come to mind: In the stillness of this night, I put my trust in you, oh God. I rest in your love, and may you grant me rest in my bed; a rest that is deep, peaceful, and renewing…

Go to "Silent Retreat - Day 3" for more ----- >

Silent Retreat - Day 1 - Travel


As I was planning my Extended Professional Development Leave (EPDL), a Pastor in Ottawa suggested I take the time to do a silent retreat. Not being one that is silent much (hold your tongues), I thought that this would be a good experience for me. This Pastor suggested a place in Vermont called "Weston Priory." I looked it up, booked a time to come, and alas, now is the time.

I left on a sunny holiday Monday and began my travels to Vermont. My trip took me through the Adirondack Mountains. A beautiful drive! Rolling hills, winding roads, and cute little hamlets dot the way.

I discovered the Adirondack museum, which was closed at the time, but I'll go back in the future.

I drove by white water rafting places and scenic stops along the way.
My drive ended that day in Glen Falls, NY, where I spent the evening in an old Hotel. Lots of history in this hotel, as well as in the city. I took a walk around the downtown and discovered two very old churches, with many others dotting the landscape in the distance. The evening was spent blogging some recent things I'd done.
In the morning I had breakfast by myself; literally. I was the only one in the restaurant. A senior's bus tour had just gone through (woke me up at 6:30 am actually, which would be good practice for getting up for 5 am morning prayers on Tuesday morning).
I'm now sitting in the hotel lobby, blogging, as I await my time to arrive at the monastery. On my way to Weston, I travelled across the New York/Vermont State line. Below is the welcome centre. A nice little place, which thankfully had a bathroom : ). Go To, "Silent Retreat - Day 2" to continue the story ---->

Quitting Church

As part of my Extended Professional Development Leave (EPDL) I wanted to do some reading on trends in the church. One of those is the trend that people seem to be leaving mainline churches. Young Adults seem to be doing it a lot, but others are too. I picked up a book, aptly entitled, "Quitting Church" by Julia Duin. I'll summarize its contents first, and then make some observations and learning's about what I read. Take the time to read on, you will be surprised at what is drawing people out of church, and maybe even more surprised about what I think about it.

Julia Duin notes all sorts of reasons that people are leaving the church. She begins with general stuff like, "plenty of people in this country [USA] are interested in spiritual matters. They are simply not going to church to feed this interest" (13). Some have experienced charismatic renewal in a church that was very good at doing it, but the experience of "fabulous worship, great preaching, spiritual gifts, and sacrificial giving so that new comers were converted almost as soon as they walked in the door" ruined them for life (16). If they had to leave, there were no other churches that came close, so they stopped going.

There is another problem of Pastors being out of touch with the reality of the day and with "new fads and programs com[ing] and go[ing], but [the] mediocrity and lack of God just seem to go on forever" (19). It seems that "many people …were also disappointed or perplexed in some way with God" (22). Another reason people seem to be leaving is that "what's preached and taught is irrelevant to the questions on the ground" (28 -29). There is the matter that people today are much better educated and they don't have time to waste on churches that seem to operate in the 19th century. These people think "in business terms – long term planning, strategies, vision, bottom-line performance and progress – concepts that don't exist in church systems run by volunteers and headed by and overworked pastor" (31).

Further, she makes the statement that "the people who are not in church [today] are often traditional Bible-believing Christians" (39). They "know there's more to Christianity than just believing.. . . [and want] . . . a way of living rather than just a way of believing" (43).

Duin then goes on to list several issues that are keeping people away from church. Here's a summary, as best as can be done, chapter by chapter….I've tried to keep it short, to key quotes only.

A. The Search for community. People are looking for it today. "Community undergirds people emotionally, and the emotions are where today's spiritual battles are being fought" (49). Many churches have become "depersonalized using ….staged 'passing of the peace' (I've experienced that). . . [or] . . . not contacting the formally churched after they left" (52). Here's a good quote, "For centuries, our churches have been sermon and audience focused, where people can go to church and leave with no opportunity for meaningful human contact" (52).

As a reaction to this, many people have moved to something we now call "House Churches." If you don't come, people notice and find out where you've been. The appeal is that house churches don't "demand a tenth of one's salary and take up a chunk of one's Sunday," and when it comes to church, if the worship isn't great, then people conclude there's no real reason to go (61).

The problem is that house churches can also grow, and some even become organized, or join a denomination, and this seems to drive the purists away once again.

B. In adjusting to the 21st century the church has its work cut out for it. Some people want to go back to the ancient forms of worship, while others want cutting edge ministry (like the church I attended on May 17th – see blog entry). Morality is a moving target today where "divorce, crime, single-parent households, and suicide are much more prevalent than thirty years ago" (72). An interesting point in this chapter is that the church seems to have sidelined young adults when it comes to leadership. The truth is that "they actually want to grow and learn …[through] . . . hands-on meaningful opportunities" (74 – 75).

C. The issue of singles: I liked this chapter. I have known about the implications of the feelings of singles as I've done ministry, but chapter was a good reminder for me to be sensitive to their needs, and it also shocked me a bit too. Duin suggests that the church should "expend some energy matching them up" (88). The church should also not think of singles as just a great volunteer reservoir. "We are not the church's easy free labor pool to do the undesirable jobs no one else wants to do in the name of 'servant hood,' 'contentment,' and 'humility.' We are anointed individuals like our married counterparts with unique spiritual gifting and callings that others need in their lives" (94). Too often singles have been demeaned through the glorification of marriage and been told to be content with their singleness. Some, maybe many, are not content being single, and the church should be a place where matchmaking is encouraged. Very interesting.

D. Teaching, or maybe not: This chapter might be a hard one for preaching Pastor's to read, but since I'm not one of them, I read it. : ) Duin makes some good points in this chapter. She quotes a survey done that found "that while only 44 percent of congregations polled rated the preaching they got as excellent, 81 percent of the pastors did so" (102). Another point to ponder is that "the masses are better educated and no longer so naïve to think this one person [Pastor] has all the knowledge and wants to feed it into us. We want to interact with the information" (106).

There was the idea that unanswered prayer was not taught about in the church today, and authentic relationships are lacking.

E. Is the Pastor the Problem: Duin is getting at the issue of Pastors having to be either inhuman or superhuman, when in reality all they need to be is human. It's not easy Pastoring today, with all the demands that even this book has brought to the surface. I think the core of the chapter comes in this quote: "churches must be led, not managed . . . just having vision is not enough . . . [and Pastors need to ] . . . have the will or spiritual fortitude to implement [the consequences of their actions]" (128). As Duin so aptly states, time alone spent with God is the key for Pastors to lead, and produce better sermons.

F. Women in General are leaving: The age old issues of gender inequality comes out in this chapter. Duin suggests that "men are afraid they will lose their male authority" (140). She also suggests that men view women in the church as objects of temptation. "Women are considered dangerous, so they are shunned" (147).

G. The Issue of Spirituality: This chapter focuses on the charismatic movement and how many churches aren't comfortable with it. There are pockets of it around, but the church doesn't really know what to do about unanswered prayer, healing, and supernatural giftings.

H.The final chapter tying it all together. Duin summarizes her findings of the previous pages:

"It's mature Christians who have opted out of church" (170). "A lot of young Christians …may go [to church] occasionally, but they don't get much out of it. . . [and] . . . they are getting their spiritual experiences off the Internet [or in house churches]. (171- 172).

People who have been to church for some time have become bored, or have felt controlled to death. "To keep such people you have to release into ministry …equipping, networking, resourcing, launching, supporting and cheering when its best 'fish' go out and change the world" (174).

Here's an interesting quote: "When asked the formerly churched what would get them back, they said the number one thing was an invite from a friend or family members . . . the friendliness and welcoming aspect is crucial" (175).

Some say that their "faith is undergoing a huge transformation and [they] have questions that were never addressed" (176).


So, that's all the information on/in the book. Are you still with me? Now I'd like to interact with it for just a moment, and maybe you want to as well.

I think Duin brings up many good points. She's pretty thick on what's wrong with the church, but her final chapter is pretty thin on suggested solutions. Sadly, the ones that are given just don't seem to have any teeth to them. After pondering the book for some time now, I've come to see that there's probably a reason why Duin spends nine chapters offering reasons why people are leaving the church, and only one short chapter on how to fix the problem.

The reason she's thin on solutions is because there is no easy solution to this problem. I agree with Duin that church can seem irrelevant in its teaching, singles have more than likely been neglected, women have often been marginalized, and the Spirit's power has been quenched. I know that those who are disillusioned have tried other avenues of church like House churches and postmodern or emergent churches. It seems that in all of her writing no one seems to have found the smoking gun that will solve all their Utopian ideals of what church should be. That's a huge statement to the effort it takes to make church work, no matter what it's size might be.

To all of this I gently suggest three other lines of thought that some might not agree with, but I think warrant closer scrutiny.

First, throughout Duins book one theme that seems to ring out loud and clear is the whole notion that I have to get something out of this whole church experience. That worship is solely my experience and it better be value packed each time I go. If it isn't, or if I don't like something, I'll just leave and journey on until I find the church that suits my needs.

Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't be fed by your church community, but what ever happened to that wonderful word we call "sacrifice"? We are living in a "me" generation, and that has bred a self centred society. People used to go to church out of duty or guilt, and that is not healthy, but it seems today that we've swung the pendulum to the other side and commitment only lasts as long as I stay satisfied.

If that were true in Jesus' day the disciples would have left Jesus. What did Jesus teach? He taught us how to serve one another, not be selfish about me - and no other.

Second, what is this whole church searching all about anyway? It's a desire to enhance, improve, deepen our relationship between God and myself, or yourself. That's what it boils down to really. Now some churches may struggle with how to do that well, but I can't see that so many do, and even if they do, why aren't these "quitters" trying to change things rather than move on. I think of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others who so desperately wanted to change "their" church because their relationship with God was deep, renewing, alive. Eventually the church ended up kicking them out, but they never wanted to leave it. The crux of the matter is that it's our relationship with God that causes us to behave the way we do - in all that we do - , and that includes church life. Duin didn't talk much about that.

Finally, and interestingly enough a theme that I've been talking about in other blog entries, Duin names the best solution of all through her own life experience. "Visitors as a custom were invited to people's homes on Sundays after the service. As a college student . . . I was invited to an elder's home one Sunday after visiting his church . . . [and] . . . the encounter changed my life, and I became best friends with that elder and his wife, plus joined their church" (179 – 180). Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. Do I sound like a broken record? Good! : )

The church is far from perfect; our church is far from perfect, but we strive to get the message out that people are at the centre of what we are about. We are a busy church, but not for the sake of just being busy, at least I hope not. The reason for all we do centres on growth in God and with each other. We grapple with, yet value, the supernatural gifting in the context of our denominational history and are doing pretty good at ministering to all ages of the church. We are active in missions both local and abroad.

Can we do better in the area of singles,women in ministry, and single parents? I think we could say yes to that, but we have not ignored these issues either. Calvin is a church that I'm honored to be able to serve as a co-pastor, but it still has areas it needs to work on. We've lost good people because they've not felt a strong connection point. We need to continually work on that.

Again, we are not a perfect church, but if, as Duin states, Christians " decided to share things in common, be willing to suffer together [not bolt when suffering occurs], and be part of a supernatural church . . . if enough believers are willing to pay the price . . . then people will begin craving church instead of quitting church. . ." (180). If everyone decided that, due to the imperfections of the church (our church), they were going to leave [and it seems many have], who would be left to challenge and subsequently change the church? I think the "quitters" have done the church its own greatest disservice, as well as themselves. I'd rather be part of the solution [and the crazy ride that it often takes to find them], not just a complainer about the problems of the church. How about you?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

May 17 Church Visit

As I continue my Extended Professional Development Leave (EPDL) I once again visited another church. Christopher came with me this time, as I wanted to see how he would react to this church. I won't mention its exact name, but I think you'll be able to guess it after I describe it.

This church met in a movie theatre in Gloucester. They truck in all the church stuff (band equipment, computer, sound board, and child care & church school stuff). Chris and I entered the building and were right away greeted by two friendly faces that invited us, and directed us, to the theatre containing the church. As we walked to it, we passed by a welcome/info table, stopped, and talked with the lady there. Friendly, but I had to initiate the conversation (which I found interesting). We discovered that this church has only been around since September, 2008, but has been steadily growing. The lady had actually only been part of this church for 3 months and was already serving as someone who welcomes others….make a mental note about this . We also discovered that she had left a much larger church in the Ottawa area because it felt too big and impersonal.

Before walking into the theatre, we took some information about the church. There weren't a lot of people in the theatre, and it was already 9:50 a.m. Church was scheduled to start in 10 minutes. At 5 minutes there was a countdown clock that appeared on the screen.

Church began at 10 a.m., and we stood and sang 4 songs. Two we knew, but two were new to us. As we sang (about 12 minutes or so) another 100 people walked in to fill up the theatre. I was expecting mostly young adults at this church, but there was a cross section of ages, though it was weighted with 18 – 35 year olds.

At an appointed time, the main pastor appeared on the screen to deliver the teaching time. There is one home church, and several satellite churches like this one in Ottawa, that all receive the same teaching. Part of the teaching time included a Q & A. That was different, and refreshing.

During the beginning of the teaching time the offering was taken. After the teaching time, this church took the time to thank one of the theater managers for all the help that they had received from him. He was being transferred, so they gave him a gift card for Starbucks Coffee. That was very nice to see.

We left the theatre and slowly made our way out. Many people were talking with each other. We made it back to the welcome table where I scooped up some more information on the church for later review. No one engaged us, but I don't think this church needs to apologize for that because they are up front about you connecting with them not necessarily them with you.

In the car I asked Chris what he thought of the experience, and he was painfully honest. It was the best service he'd been to in a long time. I asked him why. The music for starters, the fact that it was in a movie theatre helped, and the sermon was something he got something out of and for the most part could follow. I found his comments pretty accurate, truthful, and thought provoking.

I've now had the chance to do some reading of the information that I took from the church. I must say that I really liked what I read. There were 5 different parts.

  • A financial report for the past and upcoming year
  • A Philosophy of ministry
  • A community Living Manual
  • A Spring Report for 2009
  • A bulletin for that week

What I gleaned from all the information was that this church is very good at communicating. Once I finished all the material, I knew:

  • What this church stood for.
  • What would be expected of me if I wanted to get involved.
  • How their spring programming was going.
  • The methodology behind all that they were doing and that this church was not perfect, but real.

I discovered that there were both differences and similarities when it came to Calvin CRC. Some of the Differences:

  • One church with many different satellite sites. All teaching comes from one person.
  • A clearly articulated mission and vision statement that is being consistently acted out.
  • The ability to be innovative quickly due to the newness of this church and starting from scratch, and to celebrate that innovative nature.
  • An intentional and systematic methodology of doing ministry (i.e. House churches) with no apologies for it.
  • A strong teaching Pastor who carries the vision of this church (both a plus and maybe not so much a plus).
  • A strong web site that is updated weekly; it is the front line of meeting for many who eventually come to this church.
  • Unashamedly calling people to give to this ministry and naming specific amounts.
  • A question and answer during the sermon time, using texting as a way for satellite sites to be able to connect. I found that very interesting.
  • Some theological differences, but that's going to happen.


  • Budget issues, like most churches.
  • Similar program ministries (church school, nursery, youth group) though they give them more modern names.
  • The struggle with members (called core community) and those who are guests.
  • Mission work is supported, though done a bit differently.
  • They struggle for volunteers, just like we do, though their relative newness does help them in getting volunteers. I wonder what that will be like 10 years from now?
  • A web site in which the sermons are downloaded. In their case it's video, in our case it's written. Effective on both counts.

All in all, I found this church experience to be a good one. I think it attracts those who have become disillusioned with mainline churches because it unashamedly states it is not like them. Today that seems to be something that catches the eye. They use the Sunday service, and their very talented teaching Pastor, as a way to grab people, and then the hope is to connect them to a "Home Church" and from there they begin to experience the community that they have been longing for.

There are many things that I truly like about this church and the way it has been growing. I think I/we as a church could learn a few things from it. Here are some:

  • We need to recognize that innovation for us in the CRC comes as a more difficult thing because we have a much longer history to contend with. Innovation is easier in the church I visited because it has many young adults who are able to put their energies into church in ways that those who are married and have younger children are not able to. When the call comes to be part of something bigger, they jump at the chance and produce (I am generalizing here because I know that young adults are also busy in school, starting their careers, etc). Not every church can say they have that sort of volunteer pool.

  • We can't compete with such a talented teaching Pastor, but maybe we can learn from the content that he is giving and what those disillusioned with the church are hungering to hear. Having such a talented teaching Pastor seems to be the big draw for this church, but what if that teaching Pastor leaves? I just finished a book (which I'll be blogging on soon) that talked about many a church that had seen its rise and fall based on the charisma of a great teaching Pastor, or healing Pastor. Focusing on one isn't always such a good thing.

  • Large isn't always something to be celebrated. We have begun working at our "Growing Together Groups" (similar to Home churches) and this is a good thing. I think that the church I visited has a more consistent leadership in place for these groups in that they have elders assigned to lead them. The bulk of their growth happened in the Home Churches. Maybe we need to take a closer look at the intended goals and desired outcomes of our GTG's, but we are on the right road.

  • The style of worship wasn't an issue in this church; in fact, there wasn't much to it. They simply had four songs, an offering, and a teaching time. The focal point has always been the teaching time. I think what we do at Calvin, using the arts, and other tactile modes in our worship are all good things that allow variety to be expressed in our congregation's faith experience.

  • Kids were not necessarily included in what goes on, and I think our Pastor's short interaction with the kids during our service is very good. It says we value them, and they begin to build positive memories about church at a very early age.

  • Missions for this church was done slightly differently than ours, but not much. They raised money for a couple of different organizations that they have deemed important for them based on their philosophy of ministry. We do the same thing through our denominational ministries, and some that are closer to home. The difference is that they get involved in the fundraising as a group and don't just give money to the cause. This allows for community to continue to be built in ways that go beyond simple Sunday morning interactions. Another difference is that these causes are constantly in front of the members so they know how much was raised, how much is still needed, etc. There are also targeted causes, with invitations to be part of them, rather than start up new ones. At Calvin we are beginning to talk about how many different things we do support and should we be more targeted, or simply let people support what they want to support. There are pro's and con's to both, but we need to decide what road we want to travel. We HAVE begun to raise the awareness of the ministry's we support via our ministry shares, and that is a good start. We could learn something from this church when it comes to missional support.

  • This church continues to dream big, and beyond its means. That means they must rely on God for their sustaining ministry. I think, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we could also learn a great deal from that too. This church has spelled out its giving guideline as 10 % of your gross salary, and then you give above that for other causes of the church that are ambitious. In Calvin, we have always struggled with meeting our ministry share goals and are very leery of talking with each other about any sort of personal giving. I think we could, and really should, learn something from this church. Giving is a spiritual discipline, and as such, should be part of our spiritual conversations. Yes, there are situations that have arisen in people's lives that prevent them from giving much. I'm not talking about those situations. I am convinced that Calvin could meet its current budgetary commitments, and more, but we need to begin talking about giving as boldly as this church has, even with the added obligation of having families pay for Christian Education. This church is up front that their giving is an investment in "people." We have talked in those terms, but need to do that much more intentionally.

  • Finally, this church hits on a very good point. It differentiates between religion and"organized irreligion." Religion they define as "any system of rules, regulations, rituals, and routines that people use to get right with God." Organized irreligion is not about a collection of religious activities or simply being a member of an organization, it's about following a radical prophet and teacher, Jesus, and making a commitment to community that is similar to that of those in the early church as we read the book of Acts.

Calvin can be similar to this church in this sort of thinking and methodology. In certain ways we already are. In other ways we need to re-think what we are doing. I think we need to take some time to figure out just who we are as a church (our DNA as I've noted in another blog entry) and then unashamedly get that word out through each of us who are members of this faith community. That doesn't happen unless the members are excited about the community that they are part of and know where it is going, why it is going, and how it's getting there. This church I visited had that down pat.

So, I learned some good things in going to this church. I ask the members of Calvin. Are you excited about your faith community? Do you know what it's about? Do you know why we are doing what we are doing? Do you see God at work in the life of this community of faith….and in your life? Maybe as the leadership we need to do a better job of articulating these things to you. Maybe you need to come to us and begin to talk about these things so that together we can invest in the lives of people and share with them the radical message from a radical prophet in radical ways.

I hope you are not satisfied with just coming to church on Sunday mornings and hoping your children will be blessed by the ministry programs that go on during the week. I hope we have not become, as Kent Hughes wrote: "[a church] infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. [Church attendees who say] you go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills – an I'll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I'll criticize and complain and probably bail out – my thumb is always out for a better ride." (quoted in Christianity Today, May '92).

If you are like this, you may be drawn to a church like the one I went to. Even to those young adults who are leaving the church in droves my question is "How long will you stay?" We've seen people come and go from Calvin over the years who are the "church shoppers." I've seen young people and young adults leave the church for many reasons, some painful and the fault of the church, others not. I'm a firm believer that Calvin CRC is a great fellowship to be part of. It certainly isn't perfect. We've made our mistakes and will continue to do so, and quite honestly, this community of faith isn't a good fit for everyone. However, the call of all of us who call ourselves apprentices of Jesus is to be counter cultural, plant some spiritual roots and stick around for the ride. The saying goes, "you can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your relatives." In Calvin, we are a family that continues to ebb and flow. We are a family that has its disagreements, but we are also a family that seeks to serve God. There are many things we can praise God for in this fellowship, and things we need to ask God's forgiveness for. My hope is that we continue the process of figuring out just who we are, run with that and unashamedly shout it from the rooftops.