Benedictine Formation: A School for Beginners

As Benedictines we are called to a life of learning and ongoing formation. We study the Rule of Benedict and stay open to learning and listening. We need a solid foundation in Benedictine tradition and spirituality and its built-in flexibility that has helped sustain it for more than 1,500 years. Its dynamism gives us hope. It is our tool for daily living and for change.

Our roots go deep, our history holds a timeless, collective wisdom that is needed today. We would like to develop structures to support ongoing formation in that tradition, possibly a more formal and extensive formation process for oblates.

We note also that our Benedictine charism reaches across religions and faith traditions as well as generations. One thing we feel we need is a sort of clearinghouse for sharing information and resources. It would be helpful to find links to monastic community newsletters, blogs by oblates and vowed members, and retreat and workshop offerings all in one place.

This clearinghouse could also provide a space for sharing “blueprints” from communities on questions like how to move through the closing of a monastery from both the vowed and the oblate perspective. Or, blueprints for new ways of living in the monastery, including live-in volunteer or experiential programs.

We are all in agreement that connecting electronically via technologies like Zoom has opened many new doors for us. There are expanded opportunities not only for teaching and learning but also for shared conversation among those of us in the U.S. and also around the world. Our Benedictine family is world-wide and we’ve only touched the tip off the iceberg of what that means for us. Networking, idea generation, and sharing resources, which is key to our global understanding as well as the growth of our Benedictine community, is now borderless.

There is a certain need for institutional support for oblate programs and formation. It is the vowed members who are currently carriers of the wisdom of the tradition and the oral histories of the communities.

It would be helpful if there was a general, updated “Oblate Handbook” to guide inquirers and orient new oblates. Also, current vowed oblate directors need to work on succession plans so that oblates can lead their own formation, either on their own if there are no vowed members, or in partnership with vowed members.

Our gathering showcased the universality of concerns across the country and how interconnected we are as Benedictines—with one another and with other “flavors” of Benedictinism. We are linked in spirit and action with the wider world. One example of this are the many dispersed Benedictine communities. We have much to learn and share together and new technologies make it easier for us to have hosted dialogue.

  1. How do we more fully develop monastic formation programs for oblates and other seekers? What are the standards, levels of accountability and credentials needed for those who develop and lead those programs?

  2. How do communities in general create stronger networks and share resources and make it possible for all seekers to find them and connect with the resources?

  3. What would it look like to develop a Benedictine ecosystem?