By Stuart Mann
The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine is inviting young women to spend a year living in “God’s rhythm.”
The Sisters are inviting up to 10 women, age 22 to 40, to live with them at St. John’s Convent in Toronto, where they will experience the Benedictine life of prayer, study, recreation and service to others.
“It’s an opportunity to take a year off to deepen their spiritual lives, their walk with God,” says the Rev. Canon Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert, one of the organizers.
The initiative, called “Spend a Year Living in God’s Rhythm: Companions on the Way,” will begin next September. The women will live in the convent’s guest house and take part in the Sisters’ daily life, which includes four worship services a day.
In addition to daily devotions, the women will spend part of each day in study, either at the convent or at Wycliffe College, where they will attend classes on a wide variety of subjects, including contemplative prayer, the monastic tradition and the missional church.
Sister Constance Joanna is hoping that the initiative will raise up a new group of leaders in the church, women who are grounded in monastic values and practices and equipped to bring the Gospel to a rapidly changing society.
“We feel this program answers a need that is expressed by young people in our church – how to be more grounded in their spiritual life and also to develop skills that will be useful in pioneering ministries that they may be involved in.”
Part of each week will be devoted to serving others in the wider community, possibly at a FaithWorks ministry or St. John’s Rehab Hospital. The women will also help out at the convent, assisting the Sisters with their ministry of hospitality and with basic housekeeping duties.
Each woman will meet with a spiritual mentor once a month and also with the Sisters on a regular basis, to discuss how things are going. They will have four weeks off for vacation and another week for a retreat. Their room, board and daily expenses will be paid for by the sisterhood. Mondays will be a day off.
Sister Constance Joanna says one of the most important aspects of the year is to help the women discern where God is calling them. “We want to help them find where their joy, gifts and passion meet a need in the world, as Frederick Buechner would say,” she says.
Molly Finlay, an associate member of the sisterhood and one of the organizers of the program, said the year is ideal for young women who are searching for “authentic spirituality” and have a passion for renewing the church.
“I think it’s an opportunity for women who have been searching and wondering about their vocation – wondering about why their spiritual lives feel a bit hollow,” she says. “It’s taking a time out of your usual schedule to grow in Christ and be transformed, and in turn transform the church. The church is at a crossroads. It’s not going to look the way it did. And we have an opportunity here to find some women who are hungry to follow Christ and to form them in an orthodox spirituality, and then allow them to go out and be change-agents for our church and to be missionaries to our culture.”
Ms. Finlay has been an associate of the sisterhood for several years, an experience that has changed her life. A former communications professional, she is now a divinity student at Wycliffe College. “The convent has been transformational for my life, and it has made me a much more brave and dynamic leader within my own church. It has given me an opportunity to do a real about-face and follow Christ in a way that I could not have imagined. Life has become so much richer than it ever would have been if I hadn’t had this time of formation with the Sisters.”
Sister Constance Joanna says the initiative has generated a lot of interest in the church. She has been asked to speak about it at the Diocese of Toronto’s upcoming Synod and at other gatherings across Canada. “It’s very exciting,” she says.
A small committee is steering the program. The group is made up of Sister Constance Joanna, Ms. Finlay, Karen Isaacs, who is the administrative assistant to Bishop Patrick Yu, Barbara Jenkins, who is the registrar of Wycliffe College, and Sister Elizabeth Rolfe Thomas, the Reverend Mother of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine.
For more information about “Spend a Year Living in God’s Rhythm: Companions on the Way,” visit www.ssjdcompanions.org. Those interested in the initiative are also invited to attend a supper on Tuesday, October 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Wycliffe College. The evening is free of charge, but donations are welcome. Please RSVP by Oct. 15 to email@example.com if you plan to attend.