Episcopalians Finding Role in Monastery Life

By Lilly Fowler
Religion News Service
Saturday, April 12, 2008

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Mount Calvary looks like your typical monastery. Visitors are greeted by a painting of a white-robed monk, a large cross around his neck and a Bible in his hand, staring ahead.

But the monk in the painting isn't a Catholic, and neither are the men in white-hooded habits who scurry about, welcoming visitors as they prepare the day's meals.

Mount Calvary is actually an Episcopal monastery, one of five monastic communities belonging to the Order of the Holy Cross. The United States and Canada are home to 23 distinct Anglican religious orders, said David Bryan Hoopes, president of the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas, yet many people don't know Anglican monks and nuns exist.

Marcela Perett found them during work on her dissertation at the University of Notre Dame. She decided she needed to get away, and as an Episcopalian, she assumed that any monastery she settled on would be run by the Catholic Church.

"I did not know that Protestant denominations had monasteries," she said.

Then a friend from her home parish mentioned St. Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, Mich., an Episcopal monastery, "as a place where people from our dioceses go, when they need to get away."

Once there, Perett said she enjoyed the vow of silence imposed on both the guests and the monks, who welcomed her to join the daily cycle of prayer and the chanting of the psalms.

It's not much different from what visitors would find at a Catholic monastery, said Robert Sevensky, the prior at Mount Calvary. What sets them apart is the complete independence of Episcopal orders.

"Pretty much we're self-governing," Sevensky said.

Roy Parker, a monk and ordained priest at Mount Calvary, agreed, noting that Episcopalians -- despite a liturgy that looks and feels like a Catholic one -- don't have to answer to the same hierarchy.

"I think the Roman Catholic tradition doesn't respect the democratic process as much as the Episcopal Church does," he said.

Still, the two churches share a centuries-old monastic tradition that pre-dates the 16th-century Reformation that split the two traditions. "We weren't papists, but (on) everything else we were pretty close to them," said Laurence Harms, also a monk at Mount Calvary.

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