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Canadian women begin monastic journey as Companions on the Way

Posted on: September 27, 2016 3:23 PM
Sister Elizabeth Rolfe-Thomas, the Reverend Mother for the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, presents the Companions on the Way with individual crosses to wear.
Photo Credit: Matt Gardner / Anglican Church of Canada

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Five young women are beginning a year-long monastic journey as part of a new Companions on the Way program. They were commissioned earlier this month by the Coadjutor Bishop of Huron, Linda Nicholls, and will spend the next 12 months living alongside members of the Sisterhood of St John the Divine (SSJD) at their convent in Toronto, Ontario.

During the programme, the new Companions – Alisa Samuel, Amanda Avery, Christine Stoll, Hanné Becker, and Sarah Moesker – will share the daily rhythm of the sisters’ life by engaging in regular prayer, Bible reading, and reflection; focusing on study and work projects; and contributing to a monastic community rooted in spiritual growth and transformation.

Three of the women are Anglicans, one is a Roman Catholic and the fifth was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church.

“In the most-simple terms, I’m here today to pursue a call on my life,” Alisa Samuel said. “My belief is that this experience will probably be an excellent source for personal self-development, spiritual growth, and discernment for future directions as well.”

Another new Companion, Amanda Avery, hops that the programme will help her “to discern where I’m going in the next few years, and to understand who I am professionally, who I am religiously, who I am in my career as a child and youth worker . . . what I’m here to offer the world.”

Namibian-born Hanné Becker spent a year living with two sisters in intentional community as she completed a master’s degree in Basel, Switzerland. “The experience was really transformative to me and my faith, and also I started to get the desire to serve God in a way that he wants me to,” she said. ““When this came up, I thought, this is a great opportunity to explore that further and see what God has in mind, and to follow the leading of the Spirit.”

Bishop Nicholls presided over the official commissioning of the Companions, offering reflections at the evening worship service and bringing greetings from the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace, which helped inspire the Companions on the Way program.

After the bishop blessed each of the women and individual crosses for them, the sisters presented them with the crosses, as well as journals emblazoned with the slogan, “Live the story you want to tell.”

Bishop Nicholls said: “This is stepping out into new territory. It’s part of what I think the church is being called to do – to step out in new ways, and the sisters are just showing us that it’s possible.

“Even for a community that many would see as kind of hidebound in tradition, the sisters here have been able to make change in so many ways, and this is another sign of that – of being able to welcome in other people into the community who might not ever have a vocation to the monastic life, but who the sisters can share something with.

“These women will carry the seeds of that monastic life with them as they go out. That’s a good thing for everyone.”

The Companions on the Way initiative has been warmly welcomed by the sisters, who admit to not really knowing what to expect. “It’s going to be exciting,” Sister Elizabeth Ann Eckert said. “We can only share . . . the way we pray, the way we live . . . the values that we have in that life with these women, and they’ll pick up what they need from that to take back out.”

SisterDoreen McGuff agreed, adding: “For me, having young people come and live with us – young people who’ve chosen to do this, young people who are searching and seeking for some kind of relationship with themselves and with God – is going to be a real blessing.

“Having them amongst us is a real opportunity to see what the future of the world is going to be like,” she added. “I personally feel we haven’t really done a good job, my generation, and maybe the next generation is going to do a better job. So I’m looking forward to learning what they’ve got to teach us.”