God’s Call to Francis: 2022 Companion Conference
GOD'S CALL TO FRANCIS:
``Is there something that can be done to bring together a diverse group of women to stand side by side and build God’s church in this time and place? What does it look like? Stay tuned…``
St. Francis is quoted as once saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” The 2022 Companion Conference on St. Francis and St. Clare did use words to introduce participants to Francis’ and Clare’s dream of attaining a grace-filled creation, and to encourage all of us to think about how we are called to follow in their footsteps.
Thoughtful essays, poems, and art in the pre-conference “cookbook” primed the pump and the various presentations kept the conversation flowing as we met in small break-out groups. All of these are available on the members’ website. I’d like to share some of what the conference evoked for me in response.
MEMORIES OF A SAINT FRANCIS PARISH
I was involved at St. Francis Episcopal Church on the north side of Chicago for ten years in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Our Companion Conference conversations on Francis’ simplicity of life, grounding in prayer, and the centrality of hospitality took me back to that grace-filled place and time.
Although a small congregation, St. Francis had a powerful ministry of intercessory prayer and healing. These memories came back to me as Jackie Schmidt talked about the Franciscan roots that permeate the Companions of the Society of the Holy Cross.
SAINT FRANCIS AS INSPIRATION TO COMPANIONS
Jackie talked about how Francis of Assisi inspired the early Companions to become leaders in different movements, using various gifts to reach out to help those on the margins of society. Companions were emboldened to be active in both hands-on response to need and to work to change the systems which oppressed the day workers and immigrants. In our small groups we shared what we have done to follow in the footsteps of our founding Companions and what work we still have to do.
THE ALABASTER JAR BROKEN OPEN
Offering a powerful image of the alabaster jar of oil broken open to anoint Jesus, Stephanie Spellers invited us to reflect on what we might be called to do and be in the future. With the container broken open, the pieces scattered on the floor, she asked “Where can this oil now flow?” What is the alabaster jar, she asked. SCHC? Your own life? Adelynrood? What has been cracked open for you?
Six years ago, I began what is known as “retirement.” My alabaster jar, the container that held my life as it was, was broken open, and the oil spilled out. At first, this was frightening. My immediate response was a desire to somehow repair the jar and scoop up the oil.
I took on consulting jobs that basically did what I had done before. This did not follow the way of Francis, who for the love of God cast away all that he had known to follow God into the unknown. Francis let the oil flow from his broken jar and followed it to a new life and a new calling. What is my new life and my new calling? What is the oil in my jar?
Before the conference, although I did not use these terms, I was already seeking to learn what the oil in my jar was and where it was flowing. I knew it had the flavor of connectedness, the flavor of companionship, the flavor of crossing cultural boundaries, the flavor of being a woman, the flavor of adventure, the flavor of God’s love poured out.
I had revisited a booklet I had received from Phoebe Griswold in 2006, before I ever knew about the Companions, or that she was one. It was called Beijing Circles and was the product of a United Nations program for connecting women across the globe so that they might discover how they could support and hold one another up in working for justice and peace. Although I was drawn to this vision, it remained in the back of my mind as I raised my family and worked a full-time job.
As I follow the flow of oil, it seems to be leading me to take this booklet off the shelf and do something with it. In the Diocese of Minnesota, we have congregations that represent a variety of cultures—Hmong, Karen, LatinX, Nigerian, Kenyan, Somali, Scandinavian, Italian, English, Irish, African American—and who knows how many other variations and blending of cultures. Is there something that God might want us to be doing together? Something we might be doing for one another and for the corner of the world in which we are located?
A DIVERSE GROUP OF WOMEN BUILDING THE CHURCH
As we shared in our break-out groups how Francis and Clare had touched our own lives, I remembered a scene from the Zeffirelli film “Brother Sun Sister Moon” that has always stuck with me…it was Francis’ response to God’s call to “build my church.” He had gathered up a diverse group of people to build the chapel of San Damiano.
The scene in the film had everyone working side by side, placing one stone on another, building the church. I am asking myself, then, is there something that can be done to bring together a diverse group of women to stand side by side and build God’s church in this time and place? What does it look like? Stay tuned…
Photo by Lois Blood Bennett:
Jacqueline Schmitt and Stephanie Spellers in conversation in the Adelynrood dining room.
A series of Companions’ responses to the 2022 Companion Conference began with a post from Kate Smith, Hartford Chapter, on July 14, after the in-person conference: “Joys and Challenges.” Now we have four more posts after the virtual conference.
First, from Kathleen Staudt, Potomac River Chapter, the conference’s chairwoman, returning to Adelynrood after two years away because of the pandemic, and the last few days of preparation for being together again at Companion Conference: “Coming Home to Adelynrood.”
Next, from Nancy Lowry, Berkshire Chapter, noting parallels with messages about concern for creation coming from the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion: “The Earth is God’s.”
Then this one, from Faith Perrizo, Minnesota Chapter, illustrating several facets of Franciscan spirituality that the conference highlighted for her: “God’s Call to Francis: Build My Church.”
Finally, from Veronica Chapman, Berkshire Chapter, connecting the ideas of the conference with David Attenborough’s TV nature series, and responding with new energy: “When I Think of a Grace-Filled Creation.”
I encourage you to read them all for a thoughtful overview. With this conference, the Companions have tried to ready themselves to work with God on some of the most pressing areas for concern in our time.