Nr. 2, June 1999
The theme for the next ABA convention is "Reading the Signs of the Times: The Good News of Monastic Life." The dates for the convention are August 10-13, 2000, and the place of the convention will be Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, IN. In the process of arranging for convention speakers and talking with other monastic folks about the convention and the ABA in general, a recurring theme keeps emerging: ignorance of the existence of the ABA, ignorance of its mission, ignorance of its membership, ignorance of its activities. Those of us who are ABA members have heard this before but we have never been quite sure what to do about it. Certainly the ABA boards of the past have recognized this challenge and under exemplary leadership they have refined the ABA, expanded its activities and concerns, and developed conventions around significant themes with high quality presentations. However, there is only so much that the ABA board can do. Moreover, we all know that the ABA is not just the board of directors: it is all of us. It has taken a long time and much hard work to achieve that self-understanding and I feel sure that no one wants to lose it. Still, the challenge remains. Why are we not better known among Benedictine men and women, and why are not more Benedictine women and men members of the ABA?
One key element of this dilemma is the fact that we do not communicate information about the ABA in a very extensive way. I know that is true in many monastic communities of men; I have less personal experience regarding the women's monastic communities. One of the key fallacies of almost every non-profit organization is its belief that it communicates well and many people know about it. The research shows that such a belief is most often critically incorrect. For example, the ABA has the American Monastic Newsletter, and I know how much time and effort go into making it pertinent, informative, readable, and interesting. It is even online for anyone who wants to access it. We know that monastic folks who are members of the ABA read the newsletter because they tell us. It plays a very significant role in the life of the ABA. Nevertheless, this is just one tool of communication and we cannot presume that it can bear the burden of meeting all the communication needs of the ABA. How do we reach those who are not ABA members?
Before talking about expanding our membership there are some preliminary questions that need addressing. Do we want to expand our membership? Do we have anything to offer Benedictines and those closely associated with Benedictine life? Are we willing to take the time and make the effort to tell others about the ABA? I would hope that we all could answer each of the above questions with a resounding YES. I feel that we should expand our membership because there is no other arena of Benedictine life that does what the ABA does, and what we do meets real needs of real Benedictine women and men. We might be most hesitant about taking the time and making the effort to tell others about the ABA. Nevertheless, that might be the key strategy.
Nothing is more impressive and persuasive than personal witness. I joined the ABA because years ago someone told me about it and suggested that I would benefit from joining. I respected that person's judgment and, even though I knew very little about the ABA, I joined. It has been a most rewarding experience. Many others can tell the same story. Recently I asked two young members of my own community if they might not like to become members of the ABA. They knew little about it but, at my suggestion, they joined. There are many very talented and committed Benedictine women and men who have not heard much about the ABA. We would benefit from their membership and they would benefit from being part of who we are.
So here is my suggestion. Why not tell another person or two, who are not currently members, about the ABA? Why not go even further and suggest that they become members? For your part, it will require giving a bit of testimony, but that is a small price for all the benefit it would reap. If the ABA is important to us, shouldn't it also be important to others? One of the "signs of the times" for all organizations such as the ABA is the need for the full membership to take active responsibility for the life and well-being of the group. One way to do that is simply by making contact and offering a bit of testimony. After all, if you glance at the New Testament you will notice that there is already substantial precedent for this simple methodology. Why not give it a try?
Eugene Hensell, OSB
Saint Meinrad Archabbey
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Rev. 990629 / Copyright 1999-2009 by the American Benedictine Academy / Richard Oliver OSB / http://www.osb.org/aba/news/992902/president.html