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SSJD The Eagle - Pentecost 2015


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The Eagle is the newsletter of SSJD The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine - a monastic community within the Anglican Church of Canada

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SSJD The Eagle - Pentecost 2015

  1. 1. The Eagle 1 Scenes from the installation of Sr. Elizabeth as seventh Reverend Mother The Eagle Pentecost 2015
  2. 2. 2 Dear Associates, Oblates and Friends, As I began to write this letter I was reminded of the words at the beginning of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I think there is some truth in this today on the world scene and in the church. We are going through one of those great upheavals described by Phyllis Tickle as a garage sale that takes place on a grand scale every 500 years. It is a time of information overload, a time of great technological changes, and a time when small groups have decided to push forward their own agendas through violence, oppression and acts of great horror. Phyllis Tickle assures us that while these times are frightening in many ways they are also exciting. So many times in the scriptures, we hear words such as: “Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Or “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Or “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” In the Sisterhood we have come through a long period of transition. In reality we are always in transition between stages of life, roles we play, jobs we undertake or different stages in our personal spiritual journeys. But over the last several months the Sisters have been more consciously aware of change. We had a formal visitation of the Community last August and we have been taking time to discuss some of the issues that were raised then. During the first two weeks of January, all the Sisters were home for the election of the next reverend mother and discussion on a variety of subjects. On the evening of February 8th we had a wonderful service in our chapel to launch our new history, A Journey Just Begun, followed by a reception in the refectory. It was a snowy evening which prevented some people from coming, but our special guests included Jane Christmas and her husband, Colin, who had flown in from England, the Rev. Canon John Read (whose father Allan Read ordained Sr. Rosemary Anne in 1977) and his wife Janet Read (whose painting “From the East” is on the front cover of our book) had driven down from Barrie through the snowstorm and our Primate, Fred Hiltz. The weather outside might have been cold and damp, but the warmth and joy inside were experienced by all who attended. The following day on February 9th we celebrated the Feast of our Mother Foundress, Hannah, and on February 10th I left for my sabbatical. I had decided to visit four of our Anglican/Episcopalian religious communities in the United States. My hope was to experience life in each of these communities, to have an opportunity to visit with each of their Superiors and to have lots of time for reading and reflection. The first week I spent with the Community of the Holy Spirit in New York City. This is a small community whose founder,
  3. 3. 3 Sr. Ruth Younger, was once a member of SSJD. Six Sisters live in New York City and four others live on a farm in Brewster, NY. My week in New York was mainly holiday. It was my first visit to New York City so I took time to visit a few of the major sites: The Cloisters Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts; the Memorial at Ground Zero and St. Paul’s Chapel next door where the rescuers were so compassionately cared for; and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I also enjoyed walking in Central Park and negotiating the bus and transit system. The Sisters were wonderfully welcoming and invited me to join them for recreation on several evenings. The northeastern U.S. had an unusually heavy snowfall this past winter (a total of nine feet in the Boston area) and there were times when I wondered why I wasn’t visiting communities in California instead! The day I left New York for Boston, Shrove Tuesday, there was a fresh snowfall which made negotiating my luggage challenging to say the least. I had a six or seven block walk to the subway to reach Penn Station and catch the express train to Boston. A trip of approximately four hours by express took almost seven hours because the train lost power south of Providence, RI. I finally reached the Monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) in Cambridge at 5:45 p.m. after dragging my suitcase another seven blocks through fresh snow. However, I was warmly welcomed by the Brothers and had a wonderful two weeks there. The biggest blessing of my time in Cambridge was to have my long retreat led by Br. Curtis, but I was also blessed by joining the Brothers in the Divine Office and the Eucharist every day. I did not join them for Morning Prayer which is at 6 a.m., my preferred time for personal prayer. In spite of the cold weather, slippery sidewalks, and piles of snow everywhere, I was able to get out for a walk most days. From Cambridge I went north (approximately a one-hour drive) to Emery House in West Newbury, MA. This is a large property that was gifted to the Brothers in the 1950’s and has a large house built in the 1700’s. I had a huge bedroom overlooking a meadow and lots of birdfeeders. I enjoyed relaxing, walking into the state park which borders their property, and reading two excellent books, one entitled Praying Naked: The Spirituality of Anthony de Mello by J. Frances Stroud and the other Sanctuary of the Soul by Richard J. Foster. On March 8th I went back to New York City, and crossed to the west side of the Hudson River to visit the Order of the Holy Cross (OHC) at West Park, NY where I stayed until March 22nd . When I saw Br. Robert Sevensky, the Superior, shortly after I arrived, I asked if he could recommend any books for me to read on leadership. The next morning three books and a pamphlet appeared in my rooms in the enclosure. Fortunately I had read one of them, but the other two gave me lots of material for reflection. For most of the two weeks I was at Holy Cross, I would spend the mornings in their wonderful library overlooking the Hudson River, reading, reflecting and taking copious notes on my laptop computer. In the afternoons I would rest, walk and reflect some more. I was also invited to take part in a retreat being offered during the second week I was there: “In the Desert with the Holy Mother: Exploring Marian Spirituality for the 21st Century”.
  4. 4. 4 On March 22nd I left Holy Cross, travelled back to NYC to fly to Cincinnati via Washington, DC. Because of cancelled flights, I didn’t arrive in Cincinnati until late morning on March 23rd and my luggage which had flown to Chicago didn’t catch up with me until the afternoon of March 24th . But I was warmly welcomed by the Community of the Transfiguration, a women’s community very similar in size and history to SSJD. They have a very large campus which includes the convent, the Transfiguration Spirituality Center (a retreat house), and Bethany School (K through 8). To my delight spring was already becoming visible. There was no snow at all! I had the joy of being part of this community for Holy Week and experiencing both the similarities and the differences in the way we celebrate this glorious week. I had lots of opportunity to chat with various Sisters and one of their oblates took me for a visit to Gethsemani Abbey which is so well known through the writings of Thomas Merton. As you can see, my sabbatical was filled with many blessings. While I was away, Toronto was also experiencing a very cold winter. The Chinese New Year was celebrated at the convent and ‘The Spirit of Invitation’, a program designed by the Diocese of Toronto was hosted at the convent on Thursday evenings, facilitated by Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD. Several Sisters had surgery this past winter, expected or unexpected: Sr. Sue had surgery in February, Sr. Jocelyn had double knee surgery in March and Sr. Sarah Jean fell and broke her leg in April. All three of them are making a good recovery. Another wonderful celebration was Sr. Jessica’s 25th Profession Anniversary on March 19th , Feast of St. Joseph. It was a wonderful bright sunny day with about fifty guests, including Sr. Jessica’s brother and sister-in-law. There was a lovely service with the Rev. Bill Whitla as celebrant and Sr. Elizabeth Ann as the homilist. A delicious meal followed which included trifle for dessert. March 19th was also the 50th Profession Anniversary of Br. Christian Swayne, OHC. It was celebrated the following Saturday and was attended by four of our Sisters including Sr. Jessica. Also in March, the Sisters enjoyed the visit of Bp. Chilton Knedsen, the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine who was leading a ‘Food for the Soul’ retreat on the Grace of Forgiveness. And several Sisters participated in a Ukrainian Easter egg workshop. It was great fun but they discovered that it requires steadiness of hand and the ability to blow very, very hard to empty the egg of its contents. The Holy Week Retreat was led by the Rev. Sandor Borbely, a former Jesuit and was much appreciated by all those who attended. Holy Week is always a very blessed time at the convent and this year was no exception. Several Sisters said it was a particularly special Easter. On Easter morning there was fresh snow on the lawn and light snow flurries from midday on. Some may have wondered if the winter was ever going to end. I arrived back at the convent on April 7th and was extremely glad to be home again. The following weekend Amy Joy Wong began her retreat before being received as a novice on April 15th . The next day we had our Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at which Sr. Amy Joy told the story of Mary Magdalene visiting Jesus’ tomb which she had memorized.
  5. 5. 5 The following Saturday, April 18th , baby Siena, daughter of our organist, Dan Norman, and his wife Lorelle was baptized surrounded by many members of her family and family friends. It is not often that we have a baptism in our chapel, so this was a particularly joyous occasion. The next day, Sr. Elizabeth Ann and I left for Cincinnati to attend the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas (CAROA) which was taking place at the Community of the Transfiguration where I had spent the last two weeks of my sabbatical. This conference was attended by about 20 members of the traditional religious communities but also by many members of the National Association of Episcopal Christian Communities (NAECC) many of which are dispersed communities. We had wonderful times of worship, good discussions, and great fellowship. We received a new community, the Community of Divine Love (CDL), as an affiliate of CAROA. This is a new Benedictine community residing in San Gabriel, CA, which works specifically with the incarcerated. Instead of Associates, they have Divine Companions who are prisoners and are seeking to imagine their cell as a monk’s cell and to form a practice of daily prayer and meditation. This brings me to the last big event at the convent, my installation as the seventh Reverend Mother on Wednesday, May 6th , our patronal festival of St. John in Eastertide. Traditionally the installation of a new Reverend Mother has been a private event attended only by other Religious and family members of the person being installed. However, we decided this year to open this service to the extended family of the Sisterhood so our SSJD family of Associates, Oblates, Alongsiders, clergy and lay, helped us to celebrate this joyous event. Our Bishop Visitor, Archbishop Colin Johnson was the presider and Bishop Linda Nicholls was the homilist. The service was followed by dinner in the refectory, a delicious cold meal with pavlova for dessert. This celebration was followed for the Sisters by ten days of discussion and fellowship beginning with a retreat day on May 7th and ending with a family supper party on May 17th . On May 26th Sr. Elizabeth Ann left for her sabbatical in the U.K., beginning with a few days in Glasgow and then travelling south to Whitby, to stay with the Order of the Holy Paraclete with whom we have an exchange relationship. While in England, she hopes to visit some of the new monastic communities including the Community of St. Anselm beginning in Lambeth Palace in September, 2015. Sr. Elizabeth, SSJD Reverend Mother Here are some representatives from CAROA:(L to R) Br. Jude, SSF, Sr. Diana, CT, Mother Hilary, OJN, Sr. Greta, CDL, Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC, Br. Robert L’Esperance, SSJE, Sr. Barbara Jean, CSJB, Sr. Sarah, SSM, and Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SSJD.
  6. 6. 6 Keeping in touch As I write this, Spring has begun to make itself felt after the long and cold winter. Perhaps when you receive the Eagle Spring will have come to stay! With its pending arrival, it has uncovered in our Convent building and on the grounds maintenance issues that need to be addressed. We have had to replace the roof over part of the Convent, an area that has long been a problem from poor construction finishing. The cold winter also taxed our heating and air exchange system, and has necessitated upgrades. Like most of the city of Toronto, our driveway over the past two years of ice storms and extreme cold now needs repair. We have set a target of $60,000 to try to fix these issues now before they become very major accumulated problems. We have started to build a maintenance contingency fund that will help us to deal with these present issues and also help us meet the ongoing repairs and renewals into the future. If you would like to contribute to such a fund we would be most grateful. Your support in helping us to be good stewards of what God has gifted to us in these beautiful buildings and grounds would be gratefully received. For further information, or if interested in helping us to build a healthy maintenance contingency fund, please get in touch with Sr. Doreen at or phone 416-226-2201 ext 303. From the earliest days, SSJD made it a practice to communicate with Associates and friends. The S. John’s Messenger first appeared in Advent 1891. On page 10, it stated: It is proposed to continue the publication of this magazine once a quarter, with the view of keeping the work of the Sisterhood regularly before its friends and the public in general. It is thought that those who take an interest in the various works undertaken by the Sisters will be glad to know of their progress from time to time, and also, that a more general knowledge by the public of the different works of mercy will move many to contribute to their support and advancement. By the second issue, the cover was an attractive cross, with an Eagle, and the Sisterhood’s motto “Whatever he saith unto you, Do it.” Over the years the cover design and format have undergone some revisions. In 1961, The Messenger was renamed The Eagle and that name has remained until now. One of the interesting features of the early publications is the lack of attribution of artwork, articles or poetry written by Sisters, probably to prevent any Sister from taking undue pride in her accomplishments. Articles written by Associates or friends were attributed. A chronological reading of The Messenger/The Eagle provides the history of the Sisterhood: the beginning and ending of missions and houses; the celebrations of the lives and deaths of Sisters; the evolution of the habit; the admission and deaths of Associates; changes in the Church and society. Throughout, the goal of The Eagle has remained the same—to keep our extended family and friends informed of the Sisterhood and its activities. Sr. Helen Claire, SSJD News from the Fundraising Office
  7. 7. 7 Our Branch House in Victoria, BC Part of the formation for a Novice or First Professed Sister of SSJD is to experience the monastic life in a small house or priory with two or more SSJD Sisters. Currently our only branch house is in Victoria, BC, where three of us live—Sr. Brenda (Head of House), Sr. Dorothy, and me, first professed, Sr. Debra. The Sisters of SSJD have been called by the Diocese of British Columbia to be a supportive, visible, praying presence in the Diocese. To this end, we attend special events, such as ordinations and inductions. We are present at weekly worship services and participate in worship with a different congregation of the diocese every week. Once or twice a month we travel to worship up island. In addition to this we also attend the Diocesan synod assemblies, clergy days and clericus meetings. If there is a crisis we are there. If there is a celebration we are there. An important part of our ministry is offering retreats and quiet days, spiritual direction and spiritual companionship. Each of us, in addition to our collective ministry, has her own specialized ministry. Sr. Brenda attends Aboriginal Neighbours and mentors the newly formed Emmaus Community; Sr. Dorothy is a co-mentor for EfM and visits a woman in a group home; I visit at the James Bay Centre which is an extended care facility. Finally, we all support the community we live in by our interest, attention to neighbourhood concerns, and our participation in both interreligious and secular events. Living in a branch house is similar to life at the convent. We follow the daily office schedule, generally keep the Greater Silence (from after Compline until after Morning Prayer the following day); and hold firm to our call to hospitality by striving to see our guests as ‘Christ in our midst’. Our meals are not in silence as we often have guests. There are some additional opportunities in branch house living that are not always possible in the convent setting. For example, on a nice evening we may decide to conclude the day by holding Compline at Willow Beach. If we have all been working hard, of if we have an out-of- town visitor, we may decide to take a day off and go to Port Renfrew for an outdoor worship service on the beach alongside the tidal pools and have a picnic lunch. Recently we all were able to take a trip by ferry to Vancouver to meet some of our Associates; on the way home we saw a pod of orca whales. What a thrill that was! It is a policy of the house here in Victoria during Holy Week to attend services in one congregation. This year we attended services at St. Barnabas. We were with the congregation on Palm Sunday and joined them in their palm parade through the park. On the Wednesday in Holy Week we gathered with them to follow the Stations of the Cross. I personally found Maundy Thursday with this community to be particularly moving. It was a traditional Maundy Thursday service with footwashing, the celebration of the Last Supper, the procession of the sacraments to the Altar of Repose and the stripping of the Altar. When the sanctuary party returned to the darkened sanctuary after carrying the reserved sacrament to the chapel, they returned in silence with heavy, hurried feet. While they, speaking in indiscernible whispers, quickly cleared all furnishing and vestments, I felt the anxious intensity of impending doom which must have weighed heavily on the disciples as they hurried with our Lord from the upper room to the garden. As we left the church in silence I felt like I had walked with the disciples into the triduum. Branch house time, like the vowed life, is an experience which speaks both comfort and challenge to those who live it. It is in the comforting support of our daily prayer and worship routine and through the loving relationships of our life together, that we are given the courage and encouragement to face our personal and corporate challenges. It is here that we discover that we are not so different from one another or from those who live in the world around us. It is also here that I have come to see more clearly the presence of God in our midst. Sr. Debra, SSJD
  8. 8. 8 8 must be received by April 3, 2015. Order Form A Journey Just Begun: The Story of an Anglican Sisterhood 272 pages, 130 colour illustrations Published by Dundurn Press, February 2015 List Price $27.00 SSJD Price after Feb 9. $22.00 Plus Shipping via SSJD $16.00 Send your order to: A Journey Just Begun St. John’s Convent 233 Cummer Avenue Toronto, ON M2M 2E8 Enclose cheque or money order only for $38.00 ($22 Book + $16 shipping) The Houses of the Sisterhood St. John’s Convent 233 Cummer Avenue, Toronto, ON M2M 2E8 416-226-2201; Fax: 416-226-2131 email: St. John’s House, BC 3937 St. Peters Road, Victoria, BC V8P 2J9 250-920-7787; Fax: 250-920-7709 email: The Eagle is published several times a year by the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, St. John’s Convent, Toronto, ON M2M 2E8. An annual donation of $10 to help cover the cost would be greatly appreciated. Please let us know promptly of any changes of address. The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine is a registered charity. Our charitable donation number is BN 11925 4266 RR0001.