Learning to live well in community: an opportunity for women

by Frances Drolet Smith

Today many Christians are seeking fresh ways to express ancient truths. The Sisters of St. John the Divine (SSJD), an Anglican order based in Toronto, is planting new seeds of community life and mission, renewing the monastic life both in and for the church.

Companions on an Ancient Path (ssjdcompanions.org), an 11-month program begun in 2016, invites women of any denomination, age 21 and up, to spend a year in spiritual formation, learning to pray, serving others and studying while living among the Sisters.

Why would anyone, much less a woman in her twenties or thirties, want to embark on such an adventure? The experiences of those who embraced the program bear witness to its value.

“The experience has changed me and has given me new insights”

Amanda Avery, a Companion last year and a director for a low income children’s program in Halifax, described her experience as exciting and stressful … yet joyful.
“The experience has changed me and has given me new insights and new ways to look at not just God, but myself and my community and the people that are in my community.”

Companions Class 1
Companionsattending a class. Photo: Constance Gefvert

Mathematics teaching assistant Christine Stoll found the Benedictine balance of the Sisters’ life formative. “Living here, for me, has been good and healing … I wasn’t expecting to have everything all figured out at the end of this year, but I think I have a clearer sense of what it is I need to do.”

SSJD’s community life, based on the 6th century St. Benedict’s Rule, has guided individuals and groups to engage in a balanced life of prayer, work, study and leisure. Benedict invites readers to “listen with the ear of your heart”— a welcome invitation in a noisy world.

This early monastic rule, part of the Wisdom tradition of Christianity, is firmly rooted in and inspired by Scriptures. It remains fresh for our time — primarily as a guide to daily life lived in Christ, and as a call to live extraordinarily well with others.

The Companions, who step into a challenging daily rhythm of prayer, study and service, will be surprised by what they discover about themselves. Alongside their personal spiritual quest, they are committing to a life lived fully, faithfully and authentically with others. Community life, inside or outside a Convent, calls us to be our best selves. Where better to discern gifts and explore calls than within a community already engaged daily in those very things and whose members have insights to share?

“Through the acceptance and love of the sisters, I have been able to see God’s love for me in a way I never saw it before.”

Current Companion Maria Potestio, formerly a bank Customer Relations Co-ordinator, found the program to be a life-changing experience. “Through the acceptance and love of the sisters, I have been able to see God’s love for me in a way I never saw it before. I am learning to be more vulnerable, open and honest with myself which has been healing.”

Companions learning music 2
Companions learning music. Photos: Constance Gefvert

Hospital Chaplain Alice Chiu, another participant, appreciates the convent as an oasis in the city. “Companions have a schedule similar to the sisters, which at the beginning felt overwhelming. But after several months, I am learning how to find balance in the program. I go to the chapel ten minutes before each daily service and let the Spirit hold me in a few moments of peace. It is in the silence and stillness that I feel God is really near me. Spending time in nature, in the garden or the labyrinth, also grounds me and makes me feel more able to give myself to my work.”

Women interested in the Companions’ program may request a program description and application from the Companions’ Coordinator, Sister Constance Joanna below or 416-226-2201 (316).

The 2018-2019 cohort begins in September. Applications will be considered anytime before June 15.

The Reverend Frances Drolet Smith is Rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and SSJD Oblate.