EMILY MALBONE MORGAN
EMILY MALBONE MORGAN:
If you come to a service in The Episcopal Church on February 25 and the “saint” commemorated is “Emily Malbone Morgan, Lay Leader and Contemplative, 1937,” you may well wonder, “Who is that? Never heard of her.”
Companions Have Emily to Thank
In the late 19th century a high-spirited, fun-loving, deeply religious girl in her 20s, along with some friends, founded The Companions, also known as the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, a women’s prayer group. She did so because her friend Adelyn, who was homebound, longed for such a group.
From 1884 until her death in 1937, Miss Morgan led the Companions with great wisdom and skill. She bridged disparate tastes, opinions and priorities, and showed a genius for building community.
The Society grew to hundreds of women, mostly in the United States. Her spirit is all over Adelynrood, the Companions’ retreat and conference center built in 1914 in Byfield, Massachusetts.
Emily’s Letters, a Valuable Resource
Emily Morgan is deeply loved to this day by Companions. We read her Letters to Her Companions as part of our discernment before joining the Companions. We can consult her wit and wisdom because she told stories about what Companions were doing and what was happening in the world in her annual letters to members. These stories and her thoughts about a faithful life are still fresh and meaningful today.
A Recent Addition to Lesser Feasts and Fasts
I think it’s interesting that Emily was recently recognized by the Episcopal Church. Not as a saint, exactly, but as a holy woman, worthy of remembrance as a giant in the faith.
She has a page in the liturgical supplement, Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018. She may be remembered in services on February 25, using a prayer referring to her example, appropriate scripture readings and a short biography.
She is recognized “on a trial basis” along with other new inclusions like Frederick Douglass. In the table of contents she appears near him, along with Polycarp of Smyrna, the apostle Matthias, George Herbert and John and Charles Wesley.
I have read some of the comments about her inclusion, pro and con, that are available online, which make it clear – it is not easy to get a day on that calendar.
A Collect Honoring Emily Morgan
Here is the collect in her honor:
Gracious God, we thank you for the life and witness of Emily Malbone Morgan, who established the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross so that women who live in the world might devote themselves to intercessory prayer, thanksgiving, social justice, Christian unity and simplicity of life. Help us to follow her example in prayer, simplicity, ecumenism and witness to your justice, for the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Companion Prayer
This is the prayer that Emily and the early Companions chose for us to pray every day:
Give us grace, O Eternal Father, that we strive to keep the way of the cross and carry in our hearts the image of Jesus crucified. Make us glad to conform ourselves to thy divine will, that being fashioned after his life-giving death, we may die according to the flesh and live according to the spirit of righteousness, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Savior. Amen.
I have lived with this prayer since 1990. I can tell you I often feel resistance to “that being fashioned after his life-giving death, we may die according to the flesh…” But my experience of this world isn’t all pretty and sweet to the exclusion of bitter pain and ugly behavior.
I have plenty of room for spiritual growth myself. I have come to understand that many of my most regrettable mistakes can be categorized as living according to the flesh – self-absorption, thoughtlessness, greedy impulses.
So, I pray the Companion’s Prayer sincerely. It has worked its way into my vision of who I want to become.