For me, community and calling are very much tied up with each other. Over the last month or so, as my journey of discernment has taken a step forwards, community seems to be both the means and the end to which I discern my calling. In the years since I first felt a calling – though I was unsure what this was to – there was always an interest in intentional community running alongside my journey of discernment. From exploring new monastic expressions of community with a small group and my developing interest in traditional monasticism, right through to my involvement with the LGBT+ community of which I am part, community is something which I have kept returning to, something which I have felt drawn to.
It was for this reason that I joined the Way2Community, a ministry experience scheme where I have been exploring my vocation in more depth and from more experience, but also, importantly, a community of people on a similar journey to my own, committed to each other and supporting each other as we live, work, and pray together. The support and care of community is visibly lived out as we discern side by side, each our own path for the future, but for now, our paths converge. I am reminded of a verse from the song Alone Together, by Paul Brain, on Northumbria Community’s CD of the same name:
Though I cannot live out what God’s planned for you
As our lives converge let us take the same path
Encouragement be in our hearts, on our lips
As we seek to serve the King
I have been particularly aware of this communality over the last month as my vocation has begun to unfold more. This was particularly as a result of the essay I wrote as part of the discernment process, which I decided to title, ‘What would monasticism be for me?’. This was following on from my previous essay, ‘What is a priest?’, as I felt that since I have been discerning between priesthood and monasticism, doing a roughly equivalent essay on monasticism would be valuable – and it was! I decided to make it a more personal reflection than my priesthood essay had been, focusing on Benedictine monasticism and exploring the aspects of it which particularly draw me, the things which I have questions about, and the reasons that I came to believe that monasticism may be what I am called to.
As I was writing the essay, I noticed that I was much more excited about the possibility of monasticism than priesthood, and as I learnt more about a monastic community which I will be doing a two week placement with soon, I realised that many of the things I had questions about were being answered – pretty much leaving me just with all the things that attract me to Benedictine monasticism, and very little that doesn’t. I also reflected that monasticism fits more comfortably and authentically into my experiences of calling across the years than priesthood. And so as I made the terrifying yet exhilarating admission that, ‘I think I am called to be a monk, and I think I want to be a monk’, I was surrounded by the community, encouraging me, helping me articulate my discernment, and trying to assure me that wanting to be a monk isn’t *that* ridiculous. I still have lots of discernment to do, lots of things to experience and test out, but I feel (a little bit) confident in saying that my vocation is to monasticism.
Throughout all this, community life continues, in all its times of busyness and its times of quietness. Easter came and went complete with new experiences as well as familiar ones. We went to the Chrism Mass at Truro Cathedral (a first for me), and joined in with Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together’s walk of witness on Good Friday before going to services in our respective parishes. On Easter Sunday, we went to Truro Cathedral’s Easter Vigil (also a first for me and rather higher, and earlier, than I am used to, though I did sincerely enjoy it!), again before going to services in our respective parishes.
More recently, we had a busy few days with various opportunities. Last Saturday, the Way2Community was invited to lead opening worship for diocesan synod, though we couldn’t stick around for long after the opening worship as we had various other commitments. The next day, I was preaching again, this being the third time I have preached. It was Vocations Sunday, so I enjoyed the challenge of relating my experience of vocation and discernment to the very different context of the congregation’s experiences of vocation and discernment. Then on the Monday, we were leading a service in one of the local care homes with a couple of others from Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together. Only one resident came along, since it was such lovely weather and most of the regulars had gone out for the day, but the service felt very peaceful and worthwhile. After that, in the afternoon, I headed up to the university campus where I have just begun my placement with the chaplaincy team.
And so we as a community continue to walk our paths as they converge and as we discern and experience and pray. There’s a painting which I found some weeks ago, called Forest Path by Val Spayne, which I used to pray with one night, which particularly reflects to me this journeying. It shows the two paths converging into one, which as it gets further and further away, becomes less clear as to where it goes, which way it will turn, but the path for now is marked out clearly.