My latest contribution to the larger conversation has been posted on Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones. It’s a snapshot of my musings on some of the recent reports and happenings in the world of religion, namely the Pew Report documenting the rise of the “nones” – the 56 million americans who claim no religious affiliation – and the interest in the future of nuns.
In a society where the numbers of nones are on the rise, the number of nuns is declining. I believe it is possible to view the dynamic forces behind both trends as part of the same rapidly changing landscape of religious life and shared socio-political context of increasing inequality, poverty, violence and environmental destruction. This trend and shifting landscape also apply to the wider church, especially given that the numer of U.S. Catholics is also declining according to the Pew research.
This raises a number of questions for me. First of all, the attention paid to Catholic Sisters, combined with the not insignificant efforts to help ensure our future, make me think that somehow it matters that we are present in the church and society. But are we merely symbolic figures, or is the way we engage the signs of the times and live the Gospel of some relevance and importance beyond ourselves? If so, how can we remain relevant and engaged in the larger questions of meaning and justice in the context of a society which increasingly eschews religion? If I do not want to be limited or defined by popular culture images or stereotypes of nuns, how does my life of ministry and prayer lived in community witness to the Gospel in a sea of growing inequality and indifference?
Read the whole column over at Global Sisters Report
I am coming to the end of my two week spring time sojourn in the United Kingdom. I came at the end of April to spend some time with our Sisters at our regional center in the midlands in advance of our Spring assembly which was last weekend. It has been a joy to be with our UK Sisters. I have had an inordinate amount of tea along with some wonderful conversations and a few treks in the countryside. Earlier this week I made the trek (by car!) to London. I’m staying in the same house where I lived for 3 months as a novice. It is so nice to be in another country, but yet to be at home. Another benefit of religious life!
I’m attending the Nun in the World Symposium: Catholic Sisters & Vatican II – a 3 day international symposium with academics from various disciplines (mostly it seems to be historians and sociologists who seem to get along but have divergent methodologies) and women religious. It has been fascinating to attend an academic conference about a subject near and dear to your heart. In fact, I suppose you could say I am one of the subjects of study! I was thinking today … many groups of people are studied by academics, but how common is it to have the people who are being studied attending the conference about them? Adding to the semi-surreal quality of it all, I just checked the Global Sisters Report website and found a blog post there which covers one of the streams of conversation I participated in at lunch today at the symposium!
Aside from those interesting aspects, the subject matter and research presented have certainly been thought provoking. Today we covered important areas such as race and class in religious life, prophetic witness and relationship to the hierarchical church by leaders of religious communities, the tension between being mainstream and marginal, and the newest generations of Catholic Sisters. There are over 100 participants from more than 10 countries. I even was able to meet another Global Sisters Report columnist, Caroline Mbonu, a Handmaid of the Holy Child Jesus Sister from Nigeria. We recognized each other from the pictures which accompany our columns on the Global Sisters website! She gave an excellent presentation on the experience of African Sisters ministering in the US as reverse missionaries.
All in all, it has been a very worthwhile experience and an opportunity to tap into the wider themes and key issues of Catholic women’s religious life globally. And there is one more day tomorrow, which will feature a series of presentations I am looking forward to with great anticipation on the Religious Life Vitality Project which was just completed here in the UK. Our UK Sisters participated in this project.
I head back to the States (Chicago for my graduation) on Monday. It has been a very good visit, with the prospect of many more over the next six years.
Growing up in suburban Bowie, Maryland–the last suburb developed by the Levitt Brothers–you were always at home when visiting a friend’s house. This was not necessarily because of the quality of your friend’s hospitality, but because of the literal lay of the land. There were a limited number of floor plans in Bowie, so if you’d been in one Cape Code, Colonial, Rancher, or Country Clubber, then you knew where the bathroom, kitchen, closet, living room, and parental bed rooms were located. There was a certain level of comfort in that reality, truth be told.
This month, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the mother houses of two different religious communities. My sojourn in the mid-west is rapidly coming to a close, and so I finally made two long promised trips to visit with young nun friends. Both trips were lovely, in no small part due to the hospitality of my friends and their religious communities. I also realized that there is a certain level of comfort and “at-homeness” when I am in nunland (as one young nun friend calls it), reminiscent of my experience growing up.
To be sure, there are nuances and peculiar flavors of convent culture. But when you are a guest at a motherhouse, there are usually some things you can count on:
- Your room will be ready and waiting for you, most likely with a welcome sign, a well-made bed, your own set of towels, and a note detailing some of the particular customs of the house.
- Most likely the bathroom and shower is down the hall, so remember to bring a bathrobe and some slippers or shower shoes! However, you might be surprised by the gift of your own private bath. Best to be prepared in either case.
- If you want coffee or tea, chances are it’s always available. And if you need anything else, all you have to do is ask.
- Interested in a game of cards or a solving a piece or two of a jigsaw puzzle? That can be arranged.
- Newspapers are usually available in the library or reading room.
- Finished with your mystery or novel? Chances are there is a spot where you can pick up a new book and maybe even leave the one you just finished for someone else.
- Looking for a group of women to pray with? You are welcome to join the Sisters in the chapel … just check the schedule in your room.
- You will be greeted in the hallway, repeatedly, by a pleasant smile and maybe a hug from complete strangers.
- There’s always a spot for you at the table in the dining room, complete with buffet style meals and interesting conversation. The water glasses might be smaller than you are used to, however.
- When it’s time to leave, most likely the Sisters would appreciate it if you’d strip your bed and leave your sheets in the pillow case near the door. Sometimes there are even clean sheets for you to prepare the room for the next guest. You get to participate in the cycle of hospitality!
There are variations in the mix of these bits of convent culture, just as there are different flavors of religious charisms and communities. But when it comes down to it, we’re all Sisters and it’s so nice to be “at home,” even as a guest.