In 2006, Sister Mary David Walgenbach and former coworker, Jerrianne Bland began the summer Volunteer in Community program at Holy Wisdom Monastery. Since then thirty-five women from the United States, Canada and New Zealand have participated in the program. The women live at the monastery and experience prayer, meals and community life with the sisters. They work on the monastery grounds and participate in spirituality discussions and leisure activities. Spiritual guidance is an option.
The Benedictine rhythm of prayer, work, study and leisure defines the experience. Prayer is central to Benedictine life. The regularity of prayer calls us back to an awareness of God throughout the day and puts our work in perspective.
“The Liturgy of the Hours really helped me feel like I was a part of the community—as did community meals. I read some of Kathleen Norris’ book The Cloister Walk before I came here and she talks about how Benedictines structure their days through liturgical time—which is a poetic structure of time. I really felt that. It taught me about discipline as a way of not limiting but of opening up to receive the Spirit.” (Lyndi Weener, 2010)
Centering prayer (silent group meditation) proved to be more challenging. Many, however, were faithful to the twice-daily practice.
On Sundays, most of the women attend Sunday Assembly at the monastery.
“Sunday Assembly got me thinking and imagining about what Christian worship can/could be like, and introduced me to the enthusiastic community that worships with the sisters.” (Elizabeth Marsh, 2009)
In Benedictine life, the table of the Eucharist is related to the community dining table. Serving at the community table is reminiscent of Jesus’ serving at the last supper. The volunteers develop healthy appetites working outside each day. On Mondays, the volunteers cook together and on Sunday evenings the sisters cook, and we share stories around the table.
“I enjoyed community meals immensely; I got to meet so many interesting people and have many great conversations with people I would never have encountered otherwise.” (2007 volunteer)
The Volunteers in Community work four hours a day on the monastery grounds weeding, watering and harvesting vegetables, pruning apple and pear trees and removing invasive species in the prairie. It is a chance to be grounded in the present and to integrate care for the earth with one’s spiritual journey. Paul Boutwell, our groundskeeper, and one of the sisters often lead the women in their outdoor work. In 2009, the fifteen participants worked a total of 1223 hours. Their work was invaluable as they helped the sisters tend the vegetable garden and move into the new monastery building.
“Learning how to tend the prairie or to garden or to landscape while learning so much about myself and developing my spirituality…all in a gorgeous setting with an incredible community—what a unique and privileged education this has been!” (Hannah Campbell-Gustafson, 2009)
We offer spirituality discussions or classes several times a week for the volunteers. The classes have been different each year. We read and discuss portions of the Rule of Benedict and the women learn lectio divina (prayerful reading of scripture) and centering prayer. Two years we offered group spiritual companioning in which we shared our spiritual journeys. Last year Donna Carnes, friend and neighbor, offered a class on resilience.
“Our discussions of resilience have helped me to feel more confident moving forward into new challenges and unknowns and have also given me new positive ways of thinking about past experiences of struggle and resilience. I thought it was a really wonderful topic and very well done.” (Meg Perry, 2011)
Leisure is an important part of Benedictine life. The Volunteers in Community have time in the evenings and on weekends for various activities. Many attend Concerts on the Square, the Opera in the Park and the Farmer’s Market. Some take advantage of the bike trails in Madison. An evening around the campfire brings time for singing, stories and s’mores.
There is mutual giving and receiving between the sisters and the volunteers. We remain in touch with some of them. Click here to read more about the benefits of the experience for some of the past volunteers.
The sisters look forward to their time with the 2012 Volunteers in Community. Two women have applied, and we hope to welcome four volunteers this summer. Click here to access the application materials and view the videos made by past Volunteer in Community participants for a flavor of the experience. Click here to read more reflections by Volunteers on their time with us. For more information, contact Sister Lynne Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-831-9305.