How can I participate in the life of a Religious Order or Community?
– Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG
Nearly all religious orders and communities offer ways for you to participate in their life and ministry. Communities welcome your support as a way of connecting with the wider church, and they have a lot to offer. Sometimes called “the best kept secret in the church” these communities are resources that can enrich the spiritual lives of anyone who chooses to take advantage of the blessings they provide.
Many communities offer “days of recollection” or overnight or longer retreats in which visitors can share in the life of prayer and work that is at the heart of religious community life. Some retreats offer a specific program or explore an aspect of spiritual life or ministry, while others are “self-directed,” and provide you with a peaceful and prayerful environment for reflection and inner renewal.
For all visits, especially a self-directed retreat, it is vital that you check well in advance when planning your spiritual getaway. Most communities that offer retreats have a member whose ministry includes helping visitors make arrangements. This ministry of hospitality was one of the earliest that religious communities undertook, and it is a tradition well worth drawing on!
Sometimes communities invite you to go deeper, and offer retreats intentionally designed for vocational discernment. This might allow you to share in the community’s life for a longer stretch of time – but watch out! You may discover you are called to even greater participation than you planned for, and many have found themselves moved to explore life as a member of a community in this way.
If you wish to maintain an ongoing connection with a community, many of them also provide for associate membership of one form or another. A few even have a special category of oblate membership, in which you might take a modified form of vows after a period of formal preparation. The level of commitment involved in these relationships varies from community to community, but most of them welcome the company of fellow pilgrims.
Everyone can take advantage of the periodicals and books that many of our religious orders and communities publish – and benefit from the insights, experiences and wisdom in these resources. Some communities’ members also craft icons, incense, rosary beads, vestments and prayer cards. These books and devotional items can enrich and deepen a life of prayer, whether you pick them up for yourself or as a thoughtful gift.
However you choose to connect with a religious order or community, you will find a warm welcome and encouragement from sisters and brothers who have learned the blessing of “living together in unity.”
Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, is a member of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory and Vicar of Saint James Church Fordham in the Bronx. He is chair of the National Association of Episcopal Christian Communities.