Volume 30, Nr. 2, June 2000 Richardton, ND 58652
The Community of Jesus calls every member to a living and growing faith in Jesus Christ. He is the source of our life, both individually and corporately. Our life together is possible only in him. We are ordinary people called to live beyond the ordinary. By his grace, we are called out of our various backgrounds to form a living body of believers seeking to express this call in the ordinary routine of daily life.
Through the centuries, Christians have gathered to form communities in which they have supported one another in prayer, work and fellowship. In that enduring tradition, each generation of the church has brought forth its own fresh expressions of a common life, in which people join together to live out their commitment of love and service to God, to each other and to the world.
On a small plot of land overlooking Rock Harbor, MA, that commitment has taken the form of an ecumenical abbey in the Benedictine monastic tradition. Members of the community, who come from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds and occupations, make professions according to their rule, including vows of stability and conversion of life. Today there are approximately 160 professed members, and another 60 children and young people, who live in privately owned homes surrounding the church and guesthouse. In addition, some 25 celibate brothers and 60 celibate sisters live in their respective houses (Zion Friary and Bethany Convent).
The beginnings of the community can be traced to the meeting in 1958 of two Episcopal laywomen, Cay M. Andersen and Judy H. Sorensen. Involved in the charismatic renewal at that time, their emerging prayer and teaching ministry attracted the attention and support of a small group of single women who moved to join them on the grounds on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, and committed themselves to a covenantal relationship with one another. Several families soon followed, compelled by a sense of vocation to share in this common life of prayer and work. Not long thereafter, in 1970, the Community of Jesus was formally constituted.
From its inception, the community has sought faithfully to embody a three-fold commitment to conversion of life, reconciliation in the Body of Christ, and the worship of God. Conversion is seen as a lifetime process of personal change, by which a life centered in self is transformed into the new life in Christ. Such change requires the support and love of others, as well as the daily interaction and honest exchanges which are essential parts of authentic community living. Each of the 35 homes within the community is made up of more than one family, often with multiple generations represented, a kind of microcosm of the community as a whole. This sort of mix makes for a sense of extended family within each household, and gives countless practical opportunities for bearing one another's burdens toward the goal of following Christ.
Members of the Community of Jesus come from many walks of life and differing denominational backgrounds, including Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Congregational, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Pentecostal. Together with the challenges presented by such variety, they have discovered both enrichment and strength in this diversity, as they endeavor to realize a unity that is greater than the differences that have historically divided churches and denominations. The community is committed to forwarding the ecumenical vision of reconciliation in the Body of Christ laid down by the founders, and to that end they pray daily.
The worship of God, which includes Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, home prayers, and private devotion, is the heart of the community's life together. Fundamental to its spiritual life, the Eucharist is celebrated daily. The liturgy, presided over by one of the twelve clergy who serve at the community, incorporates forms and prayers shared by most major branches of the church, rooted in both early Christian sources and contemporary expressions. The Liturgy of the Hours is chanted in Latin (the readings and prayers are in English), according to a modified structure and psalm distribution based loosely on the Thesaurus Liturgia Horarum Monasticum. The community is committed to preserving and cultivating the use of Gregorian chant, not only as a repository of a long-standing and sacred tradition but, more importantly, as a living and contemporary experience of prayer. Essential to and augmenting this corporate prayer are the daily intercessions made in each household, as well as the prayer and scripture study done by each individual (lectio divina).
The occupations of household community members are richly varied, including privately owned businesses, medical personnel, teachers, authors, musicians, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, architects, lawyers and artists. Although members are financially responsible for themselves, they are committed to sharing one another's needs. In this way, spiritually, all members hold all things in common and for the common good. The brothers and sisters, for the most part, are engaged in work at home, in the extensive music and art programs, study and teaching, writing, maintaining the church, retreat house and grounds, and in the business offices. In addition to their work inside or outside the community, many members volunteer their time in local government, school committees, the town fire and rescue teams and various charitable organizations.
Raising children within the context of a "monastic community" presents its own particular blessings and challenges. As they might be in an intimate small town or a tightly knit residential neighborhood, the children are cared for by a multitude of "aunts" and "uncles." There is a deep sense of mutual responsibility for their upbringing. Many of the community's programs are designed to incorporate their talents as well as to shape their affections, including various education, artistic and musical groups, sporting projects, work programs, travel opportunities, and family activities. The children attend the local public and private schools, and some are home-schooled. At the conclusion of their high school education, they are encouraged to take a year off from studies, during which time they begin to discern what part (if any) the community is to have in their future.
In 1988, one of the founders, Cay Anderson, died. This marked a significant transition point as the community moved from governance by its original charismatic leadership to the establishment of a structure and "rule" (still in its provisional stages) designed to perpetuate future leadership while remaining faithful to the original vision. It was especially in the ensuing years that the community found the Benedictine model to be most adaptable and helpful to its formation process. The resulting structure of the Community of Jesus is patterned after such monastic traditions.
The rule provides for three types of membership. Resident members, who engage in a lengthy process of discernment and formation, make professions which, at the level of solemn vows, include conversion (dedication to a humble, patient following of Christ), stability (a promise to make this community one's life home), and obedience (commitment to the authority of God and to the rule of the Community of Jesus). Oblate members do not live in community but, through the profession of an "Oblate Covenant," are part of the life and call of the whole. They maintain membership in their own parishes, participating in a variety of activities at the community, and living according to a "Rule of Life" for oblates. Diaconal members are associated with the community, but are involved less intensely in retreats and group life than are oblates.
The authority of the Community of Jesus is vested in an elected prioress, assisted by a council, a board of directors and the clergy. Together, they oversee the spiritual and administrative life of the community. The sisters and brothers each have their respective heads and councils who serve under the direction of the prioress. Other boards and committees assist in various capacities, so that the many responsibilities for day-to-day living and ministry are shared by members.
The mission of the Community of Jesus is primarily its life of prayer and its members' commitment to God and to each other. This mission is reflected and furthered in various kinds of ministry and outreach: retreats, the live-in program (by which people may live in a community home for brief or extended periods of time, involving themselves at various levels in the daily life and work), Paraclete Press (a multi-media publishing firm), Gloria Dei Artes (a foundation which incorporates a variety of performing arts and musical groups, including Gloria Dei Cantores, an internationally acclaimed choir dedicated to glorifying God through performance and visual arts), and Cross Point (a quarterly ecumenical journal).
Most recently, the community has been engaged in an extensive building project, the first phase of which will conclude on June 17 with the dedication of the new Church of the Transfiguration. Designed in a basilican style, the 55 foot high church is built, inside and out, of Minnesota limestone, and will eventually incorporate a thorough artistic program of stone carving, bronze work, glass, mosaic and fresco. You can find out more about the Community of Jesus, and the Church of the Transfiguration, by either writing to P.O. Box 1094, Orleans, MA 02653; or by visiting the Web site at <www.communityofjesus.org/>.
Rev. Martin Shannon
Community of Jesus
OSB | ABA | Am Monastic Newsletter