Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mepkin Moving Forward

This morning, because of my Facebook friendship with Pastor Andy of my parents' church in Williamsburg (St. Stephen's Lutheran), I read this great piece in The New York Times about Mepkin Abbey.  It includes beautiful pictures of the Abbey in its present incarnation, along with historical pictures from the 1950's.

The essay explores the issues that this monastery faces, as their members grow ever older; a newer monk who is in his 60's is one of the younger ones.  It's not a problem that only Mepkin Abbey faces:  "Across all orders, the number of Catholic brothers in the United States has declined by more than two-thirds since 1965, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. But Trappist communities may be particularly vulnerable, since their traditions are more isolating and, in many ways, more resistant to modernization."

The story discusses the direction that Mepkin Abbey will move:  "Many young people of the Roman Catholic tradition, Father Guerric added, will simply not be attracted to forms of monasticism that require celibacy and a lifetime commitment. But there’s a growing belief among Mepkin’s brothers that certain elements of the Trappist tradition — its cultivation of mindfulness, stillness and inward exploration — are increasingly relevant to today’s youth. And the abbey, they say, is a repository of wisdom about the benefits of contemplative living."

They will offer new programs, along with the retreats they've already been offering:  "The abbey’s new affiliate program will offer two new short-term monastic options for people of any, or no, faith traditions: a monthlong monastic institute, open to men and women, and a yearlong residency. And in a departure from its otherwise passive approach, Mepkin created an ad campaign — albeit a small and highly targeted one — to publicize the program. (It featured copy that read: “BE A MONK. FOR A MONTH. FOR A YEAR.”)."

In the past year or two, I've been noticing that the Abbey offers more retreats that are more organized and cost a pre-set amount.  I wonder if that move is tied to the Abbey's efforts to offer more so that they can keep going.

Every time I go to Mepkin Abbey, I wonder how they sustain themselves--and the answer that this article gives us shows us the precariousness of their situation.  They sustain themselves through mushroom sales, through retreatents, through donations of both money and time (they have volunteers that help keep the Abbey running) along with some paid labor.

I'm impressed that they are able to face their uncertain future, to pray, and to plan.  I love the idea of reaching out to spiritual searchers, even if they're not Catholic or Christian.  But I also love that they're not abandoning their core monasticism.  I look forward to seeing where they head--and hopefully being part of that journey.

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