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Episcopalians Finding Role in Monastery Life
Friar Gregory Fruehwirth of the Order of Julian Norwich in Wisconsin said that there is great variety to be found within both Episcopal and Catholic communities. Episcopal monasteries, he said, have a "similar breadth, just on a much, much smaller scale."
The monastery to which he belongs, for example, has men and women living side by side, which he said "provides a balanced atmosphere psychologically" and sets them apart from other monastic communities.
Fruehwirth said that like Catholic communities, each Episcopal community decides how and to what extent they participate in local church life. Some may supply parish priests while others might take part in mission work. Still others may choose to remain more isolated, making prayer their main contribution to the church, he said.
Part of the reason for Episcopal monasteries' shrouded identities may be the complex history that surrounds them, said Deborah Vess, a professor of history at Georgia College and State University.
"The Protestant Reformation essentially disbanded monasteries, as Luther and others argued against monasticism as a special way of life and advocated the family as the fundamental unit of a Christian society," she said.
In the 19th century, however, "Protestant groups began to revive monasticism as a way of leading a prayerful life devoted to God."
Many of the early pioneers in reviving Anglican monasticism were women. The Community of Saint Mary in New York, made up of women, was the first monastic community to be received by the Episcopal Church, in 1865.
Sevensky said it was also in New York that Anglicans established his order, the Order of the Holy Cross, at a time when "members of the English church were trying to regain some of the elements of the tradition that were lost at the time of the Reformation."
Mount Calvary now follows the Rule of St. Benedict, a set of guidelines created in the 6th century. Found in many Catholic and Episcopal monasteries, it calls for vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and features hospitality as a principle ministry.
Sevensky said monastic life isn't quite as different from everyday life as some might think. "It's terribly ordinary and people think of monastic life as something quite exotic," he said. "But at least the way we live it, it's not."
Mount Calvary has about 2,500 visitors a year, which helps financially support the household. The Episcopal Church, he said, gives little financial assistance.
"Being forced to carry our own weight," Sevensky said, "keeps us from thinking too highly of ourselves."