At the July 2018 American Benedictine Academy Conference held at St. Benedict’s Monastery, in Saint Joseph, MN, Erie Benedictine Sister Linda Romey approached Atchison Benedictine Oblate Judith Valente and asked her if she’d be interested in co-chairing a gathering of Benedictine professed, oblates, and seekers to open up and cross-pollinate conversation and sharing on living the Benedictine charism into the future. Judy said yes.
The next conversation was with Atchison Benedictine Sister Judith Sutera who was excited about the possibility of such a gathering. The planning began and in early 2019 Being Benedictine in the 21st Century launched its website with a dozen endorsements from Benedictine leaders and thinkers. Six months later registrations opened for the first-ever gathering of the entire Benedictine community–vowed, non-vowed, oblates, men, women, seekers, canonical, non-canonical–to take place in Atchison, KS, June 2020. Very quickly, 200 persons representing 40 monasteries registered. Then, a few months before the June 2020 conference COVID hit and the conference was eventually postponed until May 2021.
The intent of the gathering was not to dwell on exploring what is but rather to focus on, What are the important questions we haven’t yet asked? Through listening and dialogue informed by Benedictine values, the teachings of Vatican II, and inclusive theologies—inclusive of women, the environment, the oppressed, the refugee—our goal was to come away from this conference with a new roadmap for spreading the light of Benedictine spirituality well into the 21st century.
With that goal in mind, in the COVID interim the three organizers began regular conversations via Zoom with both conference registrants and others who had joined a growing email list. Nine conversations were held, each guided by a member of the community. Topics were silence, community, discernment, Rule of Benedict, leadership, moving forward, acedia, oblates and community, and millennials and the monastic impulse. The short presentation on each topic is available on the BenedictineConvos.org Library space.
With COVID still a concern, the gathering, with Sister Joan Chittister delivering the keynote address, was held virtually May 28-30, 2021, with 220 participants representing nearly 50 monasteries. While limited by the technology, both input and conversation addressed the goal of charting a new roadmap for our Benedictine future.
After the May 28-30, 2021, weekend, we complied more than 40 pages of feedback from three sets of breakout sessions and the evaluation surveys completed by 50% of our participants. In each of five major themes, there are questions. Lots of them.
These are questions posed, for the first time, by an inclusive and diverse group of Benedictines from across the country. It is our belief that they will help us further this conversation and guide our action. We don’t have to wait until we have all the answers, we don’t even have to wait until we’re sure we’ll succeed. All we need to do is try. As Joan Chittister writes in Radical Spirit, “An old monastic tale says it all. The disciple asks, “What do you do in a monastery?” And the old monastic answers, “Oh, we fall, and we get up. And we fall, and we get up. And we fall, and we get up again.”
Feedback gathered in during the conference and in the final evaluation is compiled in this 12-page report, available in PDF format.
A summary of the conference is also available in the June 2021 issue of The American Monastic Newsletter.