Oblate Spring: May I call you by your first name or a nickname during this interview?
BARB: You may call me Barb.
Oblate Spring: Where are you located?
BARB: We are located in northern California, USA.
Oblate Spring: How long have you been involved with home-based Benedictine Gatherings?
BARB: The group began in May 2007 Ė Memorial Day weekend.
Oblate Spring: Please tell about your spiritual background.
BARB: I was a born-again, evangelical protestant since 1978. In December of 2006 the Lord led me back to the Catholic Church and her Sacraments where I have found my true home. I became interested in monasticism shortly thereafter.
Oblate Spring: What is your role in the Benedictine Gathering in which you participate?
BARB: I see my role is that of organizer and facilitator. I keep the record of names of attendees, send out the monthly invitations, and organize the potluck dinner. Since it is held in our home, of course it is also my responsibility to have everything in the home ready for our guests. For the study portion, I do the study for the Rule of St. Benedict, typing up approximately 6 pages of information for the evening, and make copies for everyone who will be in attendance. I make sure that we have the correct Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer) reading for the night typed up and copied as well, and placed in our individual binders. I lead the prayers, and attempt to facilitate the conversation around the Rule during that portion of the evening.
Oblate Spring: How is your Benedictine Gathering structured [frequency, time of event, size, length, food, sharing work] and what happens at a Benedictine Gathering?
BARB: We meet on the last Saturday of the month. We gather at 6:00, and finish very close to 9:30. We have a core group of 9-10 people and that number is very consistent. Our group has grown, but not everyone has been here at one time. I am a little concerned where we will put everyone if everyone can attend the same night! I trust God will work that out should the time come.
We try to keep the food simple so there isn't a lot of time spent in last minute preparation. Up until very recently, I provided the main dish, and others brought side dishes. I recently asked for help in this area, because I was finding it a bit overwhelming getting dinner ready along with everything else. They were very gracious and anxious to lend me a hand.
We have 2 table stewards each evening. They leave the "chapel area" after Vespers, and go into the kitchen to set out the food, which we serve buffet style. If there are last minute things that need to be warmed up, that is done at that time. At the end of dinner, the same table stewards clear the table, rinse the dishes and get the coffee brewing. This we feel helps people learn to give and receive hospitality, which is important in Benedictine life. It also helps to keep chaos down in the kitchen.
We also have a Ďreaderí for the evening who reads the readings during Vespers. I think that it is important to have group involvement so it becomes Ďourí group, not Ďmyí group.
Oblate Spring: What are some of the other practical parts and considerations of your Benedictine Gathering?
BARB: For me, it's important to create a comfortable, warm and inviting space. Especially at the beginning, this was an unusual experience for all of us, and I think we were all feeling a little uncertain. It's not often you sit down with a group of people for dinner and don't speak. So I acknowledged that up front and spoke of our possible uncomfortableness and how normal that was, but that we would become used to it... and we have.
We also take the first half hour - sometimes less - to catch up on our lives, share interesting, general, monastic, or Benedictine books, or books of a contemplative nature that we think the rest of the group would be interested in. Weíll share pictures of new grandchildren, weddings and the like.
We pray Vespers next, which takes about a half hour.
After Vespers we have our dinner. I allow an hour for dinner, which includes a short preparation, eating and tidying up.
The Rule of St. Benedict comes after dinner. I allow an hour for this too, and we generally take the full time allowed Ė but no more. We take turns reading through the paperwork I have assembled Ė the words from the Rule, and the commentary on the Rule, and we all feel free to interject how we can apply it to our lives. Depending on the chapter we are studying, there is more or less conversation, but generally speaking we are not at a lack for application or interesting dialogue.
We do all of our prayer times in the living room, so after the conversation time around the Rule, we move from the family room, into the living room for Compline, the last prayer of the day.
Our evening ends after Compline with lights out, candles only at this time, for meditation/mental prayer. People leave quietly, one by one when they feel so led.
Oblate Spring: Who is the typical person who attends?
BARB: Most, but not all, of the people in our group are from a local Presbyterian church. Most, but again, not all, of them are 50-something. We have a few couples, and some who are married but whose spouses are not Ďintoí these kind of contemplative evenings, so they come alone. And we have some singles as well.
Oblate Spring: Who are some non-typical people who have attended and enjoyed the experience?
BARB: We have had a couple of young college age young women join us when they are home during their holidays. They have been wonderful assets who have had much to contribute to our discussions.
Oblate Spring: Describe something you have learned as a result of your involvement in Benedictine Gatherings.
BARB: Oh my goodness, I have learned so much, that it is difficult to define. I have learned a lot about myself. I am not a leader by nature so this was a very big stretch for me. When I learned of another Benedictine Gathering in another state, it appealed to me so much, and I felt so enthusiastic about it, that with Godís help, I was willing to take the risk. And it didnít kill me, and itís been great fun, and Iíve met some wonderful new friends. In addition to all of that, the group itself has met a need in my own life.
Iíve learned that sharing something that is exceptionally meaningful in my own life with other people is a joy. Iíve also learned that they donít necessarily take to it in the same way that I do, but they take to it in the way that God would have them take to it and thatís okay.
Iíve learned to trust God through this. Iíve learned itís not about my great knowledge and ability but more about my availability. He can use even me in a pretty ordinary way. It amazes and blesses me when people in the group share what a blessing the group is to them, and how refreshed they are by coming. That certainly makes all of the work worthwhile.
Oblate Spring: Did you have any
prior experience in leading such a group?
Spring: What prior experience do you think a person needs?
Oblate Spring: What do you do to plan and organize your Benedictine Gathering?
BARB: Two weeks before the gathering I send out an e-vite. The e-vite reminds everyone that the Benedictine Gathering is coming up, what chapter of the Rule we will be studying, what the entrťe of our potluck will be, and what kind of Ďsidesí we need for the dinner. I ask for volunteers for table stewards and a reader, and ask for RSVPís. Aside from that, I believe Iíve covered everything in another question.
Oblate Spring: Why do you conduct a Benedictine Gathering in your home or similar location?
I conduct it in our home because I think it provides us with the best
opportunity for warmth and hospitality. Should the group grow too large for our
not-so-large suburban home, I honestly donít know what I will do, but staying in
the home is my first choice.
BARB: The comment that everyone makes over and over is the peace they feel coming to the Benedictine Gathering. They look forward to an evening of complete peace and relaxation. There is fellowship also of course, and we have wonderful conversation around the principles found in the Rule of St. Benedict. But the over-riding thing that I personally believe keeps them coming back month after month is a night of peace in their otherwise hectic lives. Eating dinner in silence, while so very foreign in the beginning, seems to be relished now that we are all used to it. We do have a table reading, so it isnít complete silence for the entire dining time.
Oblate Spring: What advice would you give someone who is beginning to be interested in the Rule of St. Benedict and someone who might be interested in conducting a Benedictine Gathering in their home?
Contact someone who is having one, and follow what they do, because it works. I
contacted Julia Smead in Texas because she has had a successful Benedictine
Gathering for years. She explained what they did and I pretty much copied her
model. Since that time Julia and I have become fast friends who ďtalkĒ on the
Internet daily. We hold our Benedictine Gatherings on the same night, so we
pray for one anotherís groups as well. Itís wonderful to have that kind of
BARB: I would be happy to talk with anyone interested in starting such a group, and Iím sure Julia would be also. My e-mail is BarbFox5@aol.com
Oblate Spring: Barb, thank you for this interview.