Brother Kevin Hackett of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist gave this talk recently at Trinty Church, Wall Street.
Two of my favorite parts follow.
One young man has undertaken the practice—a key word—of joining us for Morning Prayer on Fridays. Why? In his own words, “it keeps me honest with God.” Another twenty-something is with us for Compline nearly every night. Why? “I sleep better if I’ve prayed like this. I like it that there is confession every night. I know I’ll sleep better,” he says. A young woman in her thirties comes to our noonday Eucharist on Wednesdays during her lunch break. Why? “It keeps me going and centered until Sunday,” she says.
In practical terms, in our preaching and teaching, we are open and honest about the joys of discipline and the undertaking of practices that seem limiting from the outside, and we tell the truth about the challenges these same things present for a group of ordinary Christian men. This openness to genuine questions of Christian life and practice demonstrates an appreciation for ambiguity, which my friend, researcher and author Diana Butler Bass, has identified as a key point in congregations that are flourishing. Last November, in an address to the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Diana identified the monastery as a place of “authentic and vital worship, because the brothers and their public practices embody the three signs of vitality I have observed in my research of congregations that are ‘bursting with life:’”
1) tradition, not traditionalism;
2) faithfulness, not fundamentalism; and
3) wisdom, not certainty.
We brothers are avid and committed truth-tellers, even when “how it is” conflicts with “how it’s supposed to be.” In matters of discipleship, theology can be helpful, but it must withstand the searing heat of lived experience in order to have credibility and authenticity.