I suppose a Retreat is the best word to use, though we–the monastic community–will observe our annual retreat back home, the week after next. But most of the community will be going to to the Priestfield Pastoral Center for the Wheeling-Charleston Dioceses in West Virginia. Only a “skeleton crew” will be on hand at 901 Cool Spring Lane from Sunday afternoon, 5 May, through Thursday afternoon 9 May. As a result, the Abbey buildings, including the church and Gift Shop, will not be open to the public and the divine services will not he celebrated here. We will re-open our doors for Vespers on Thursday evening at 5:30 MP. Think of us as going deeper into solitude for four days.
In our absence our employees will report for work and there will be a small monastic presence within the Abbey to keep an eye on things.
So what took us to this point to do something we’d never done before?
Strategic Planning, 2007
As many of you realize, we have invested constant energy and effort into planning for our future, actively discerning what God is calling us to be amidst the challenges of the Twenty-first Century. The process began in 2007 when Sr. Cecelia Dwyer, OSB, the Prioress of the Benedictine Sisters in Bristow, Virginia, began facilitating our strategic planning for the future.
Many of you are probably familiar with the term Strategic Planning, whether for business or institutions. But this has gone deeper; I believe all of here were struck by the faith dimension and rootedness in monastic values that Sr. Cecelia brought to the process. It was a crucial turning point to re-energize our potential for living the monastic vocation in a very changed world.
So much proceeded from that: the University of Michigan Sustainability Study and our commitment to the better stewardship of our land; the changes in our business practices and internal organization; our approach to vocations; this website; our engagement with neighbors and friends…
The Strategic planning was, in fact, a response to our ageing and the decline of vocations to all forms of religious life. Our Father Immediate, Dom Damian Carr, Abbot of Spencer asked us to prepare for our future as a smaller, older community, rather than be taken by surprise when we could no longer function. The process of Strategic Planning drew input from all members of the community, identifying not only our challenges and vulnerabilities but our strengths and resources. Isn’t it odd how difficult it can be to admit that we have strengths? After all, those are God’s gifts: we didn’t put them there! We can’t take credit for that but we celebrate them.
To help us along in the process, we resorted to what is known among our monasteries in North America as a Committee of Aid for the Future, a committee composed of four local superiors to advise and support a monastic community. In our case, these people are Abbot Damian Carr (Spencer), Abbot Aemeritus John Denburger (Genesee), Mother Marion Risetto (Crozet)–all of our own Order–and Sr. Cecilia Dwyer (Bristow).
Four Days at Priestfield, 2013
All of the Committee of Aid for the Future will be joining us at Priestfield along with Dr. Patricia Kelly who has been working with us on our communications. Pat Kelly forecasts that this will be a time to focus on our interior life that we may be better prepared to respond to exterior responsibilities.
As you realize from reading these posts, one could accurately describe us as a totally different community as contrasted to our composition when this new website began over a year ago. To get ourselves out of our familiar space, our unceasing responsibilities, our routine, is a chance to see ourselves in a new perspective, allowing all of us out of our pigeon-holes. Priestfield is just far enough away to be totally unfamiliar but close enough not to be inconvenient. We will meet daily for prayer, Mass at 11:00 AM with meetings in the morning and afternoon. The Midday Meal and Evening Meal will be celebrated with talking, on the heels of our discussions, rather than eaten in monastic silence. It will be interesting–enlightening, I hope–to experience what emerges from the change of pace.
In a very real sense, we are retreating from the familiar and from availability and into the heart of our collective experience. In another sense, this is no conventional retreat, which is what we will pursue back home at Holy Cross 20-23 May.
Please pray for us as we pray for you. Pray with us that we may continue to effectively share our hospitality with not only you but future generations.