There can’t be many relationships like the one Saint John’s Abbey has with the Episcopal Church of Minnesota. Twenty-five years ago the Abbey leased five acres at the far northwest corner of our property, and on it the diocese built a retreat house for Episcopalians and others seeking a quiet respite in the shadow of a Benedictine monastery. For their part, the people who come to the House of Prayer can take advantage of the activities on our campus, and periodically many join us for morning prayer and vespers. For our part, we monks gain a sacred enclave at the edge of our land, and we also bank the princely sum of $1 a year in rent.
Of course this relationship didn’t start with the construction of the House of Prayer, because its roots extend back into the 19th century. Back then, when monks served at several mission churches in northern Minnesota, often their nearest neighbors were the Episcopal parishes that were scarcely any bigger. I’m guessing that things went reasonably well, since in our popular lore there are no tales of animosity. So well did things go that, by the time of the building of the House of Prayer, the Episcopal bishop periodically stayed with us when he made his parish visitations in the north.
Our connection with the Episcopal Church is not the only one among Christian communities in Minnesota that’s been cordial. Our ties with many Lutheran churches and colleges have been equally warm. For nearly thirty years student groups from Saint Olaf College have visited at Saint John’s, and I fondly recall the two courses I taught at Luther Seminary in St. Paul several years ago. Yet another sign of amity has been the joint meetings of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran bishops that we’ve hosted annually.
For those who might think that these sorts of connections are a little odd for a Catholic monastery, it’s important to recall that monasteries have for centuries been points of convergence for different cultures and faith traditions. St. Benedict himself once hosted an Arian Christian warlord, though Benedict’s ulterior motive was to persuade the guy not to burn down the monastery. Centuries later Charlemagne founded monasteries on the borders of his expanding empire, in hopes that these would knit together the local peoples and cultures. And that tradition continued even as Christian culture came to shape European society. It was in that spirit that Dom Jean Mabillon — my favorite monk — gathered the literati of 17th-century Paris on Sunday afternoons at the Abbey of Saint Germain des Pres. Together they discussed history, theology, and manuscripts; and in time his work gave rise to diplomatics — the discipline of reading Latin paleography.
There is no denying that ecumenical outreach today does not enjoy the intensity that it had thirty years ago. On the plus side, however, that work yielded the warmer relations between the churches that we take for granted today. This certainly is the welcome byproduct of those post-World War II efforts.
Meanwhile, at Saint John’s such interaction continues, though it has more of the character of a family gathering. Today both Catholic and Protestant clergy come for retreats, just as they do at other monasteries across the country. And others come with seasonal predictability, as was the case this weekend with a group of faculty and thirty-eight students from Gustavus Adolphus College. They’ve come to the guest house for several years now, and it’s a delight to meet them and to visit with one faculty member who has been a friend of mine for ages.
But Sunday truly was a special occasion, and Abbot John and several of us monks trooped down the hill to the Episcopal House of Prayer. There we joined Episcopal Bishop Brian Prior and director Fr. Ward Bauman, and we celebrated the work of the Episcopal House of Prayer as well as twenty-five years of neighborliness. Happily, through those years the Episcopalians have never fallen behind on the rent, and as guests they have generally kept to the pace of our recitation in choir. In turn, they’ve been a continuing inspiration to us — particularly on cold winter mornings.
Such prayer together may seem mundane and pointless, but really it’s not at all. In a world sundered by hostility and division, gathering together for prayer is a reminder that conflict need not be inevitable. Perhaps that’s why Benedict urged his monks to pray and to be hospitable. He apparently knew the power of each, from personal experience.
+During the first part of last week I visited my mother, who lives in Edmund, OK. The occasion was her 91st birthday, and a good time was had by all.
+On October 1-2 I attended the meetings of the Board of Trustees of Saint John’s University.
+On October 3 I presided at the Abbey Mass, and you can access the sermon, Living in the Name of the Lord, through this link.
+Also on October 3 I had the chance to visit with long-time friend Professor Florence Amamoto of Gustavus Adolphus College. She and a few other faculty members came to Saint John’s on an overnight retreat with a group of students.
+On Sunday October 4 I attended the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Episcopal House of Prayer. Fr. Ward Bauman, the director, acted as general host, and Episcopal Bishop Brian Prior and Abbot John blessed the newly-restored prairie adjacent to the House of Prayer. The pictures in today’s post all illustrate the House of Prayer, including the gorgeous ceiling of the oratory.