Wednesday 17 October was definitely a first for the monks of Holy Cross Abbey. At approximately 11:00 AM we gathered with neighbors, friends, employees, the press and invited notables to consecrate Cool Spring Natural Cemetery and to bless the fields along the Shenandoah now being worked by the Zurchmeides of Great Country Farm (Bluemont).
We have been aiming at this for quite some time but it’s been tricky to find a day whem everyone could gather. The Abbey’s Sustainability Officer, Ed Leonard, who also manages the Cemetery, was able to wrestle this past Wednesday out of everyone’s calendar and we were set to go.
Abbot Robert Barnes, in the name of our community (most of whom were present) welcomed all who gathered at the rustic Cemetery Chapel. Thanks were profered to all responsible for this moment: Ed Leonard, of course, then Ron Heath, the local artist/craftsman who designed and constructed the Chapel. Michael Hobart, representing the Clarke County Board of Supervisors was acknowledged for his on-going interest in our ecological projects and US Congressman Frank Wolf, who facilitated Great Country Farms’ access to the National Conference Center in Leesburg, was welcomed. Local musician Madeliene MacNeil, the monks’ neighbor in fact, was present to lend her dulcet voice and flawless dulcimer playing to the celebration. From our community, it was a real blessing to have Br. Benedict out of his sickbed and well enough to mingle with so many of our neighbors who know him well.
Ronnie Hope, who has been leasing our land for decades was thanked for his on-going support for our new endeavors. Ronnie deserves a paragraph of his own, given his flexibility to allow us to allocate land he has used for cattle-raising, not only for the Cemetery, but along the flood plain for the Zurschmeide’s farming. Ronnie continues to be a resourceful help as we register our waterways with the State/Federal CREP project.
Also on hand were Carol Hensley, whom anyone who has made a retreat reservation here would know, and Carla Johnston, our dedicated bookkeeper. Jerry Reid represented out maintenance department and it’s worth mentioning that Jerry gave Ron Heath a hand with the construction of the chapel. Michael Gallante, who was in our Retreat House to begin discerning a vocation with us, was able to meet a number of the monks.
In a special class of honored guest, is Kate Zurschmeide representing Great Country Farms. You can imagine how busy they are this time of year (in fact, Mark Zurschmeide was driving a truck load of elementary school students around the farm over at Bluemont) so we were very grateful for Kate’s presence. We were doubly grateful for the tray of apple-cider doughnuts Mark had made that morning and that Kate transported to the ceremony.
After an opening prayer, Representative Wolf Read Isaiah’s prophecy of that time on the Lord’s holy mountain when death shall be wiped away and the web that ensnares all peoples shall be removed. As Abbot Robert blessed the area with Holy Water, Madeleine MacNeil sang “My Shepherd is the Lord”. Abbot Robert homilized briefly about the universal character of Isaiah’s prophecy and that our cemetery, too, is for all peoples, resting in God’s embrace awaiting the resurrection. The consecration ended with Madeline singing what should be our theme song: “Shenandoah”. How beautiful to hear that music and those words within earshot of the flowing waters!
After socializing with our guests, those who could remain walked down to the fields to bless them. The words were amended from the traditional plea for protection from “wind and hail” (not our usual problems!) to “pestilence, drought and flood”. Kate Zurrschmeide heartily approved the change.
Having joined the community thirty-five years ago, when the narrow interpretation of monastic life still prevailed, I would not have anticipated then such an informal and unpretentious consecration of our land. I could not have imagined when I was a postulant–and when the hierarchical pecking order was in full force–that all of us from the rank and file could enjoy such easy and spontaneous access to our guests and indulge in such a simple, family styled celebration.