Joys and Challenges: 2022 Companion Conference
JOYS AND CHALLENGES
``Since Jesus is a friend to the outlier and the disenfranchised, then so are we. Is it time for us to say what we are? If we are who we say we are, we need to act, not just talk.``
I (Kate) went to Companion Conference in June, 2022, not knowing what to expect. Our newest Companion, Cheri, was being admitted as a Companion at a special service. I also wanted to see people in person, not through a computer screen. Living under three hours away, I felt this was doable. Cheri drove me up and back and we chatted the whole time.
COMPANION CONFERENCE IN-PERSON AGAIN
Our conference title was: “The Dream of Francis and Clare: A Grace filled Creation,” so I knew St. Francis would be a topic of conversation. St. Francis cared about the world and how we act in it. He is the model for Companions of simplicity of life, an important vow we take when we become Companions.
THE COMPANION VOWS
Some of our vows are:
- To serve God day by day in thanksgiving, in the ministry of intercession and in simplicity of life.
- To pray and work for social justice and peace, the unity of all God’s people, and the mission of God in the world.
- To lead a simple, disciplined life and to be a faithful steward of one’s time and material means.
As a small-group leader for the conference, I was prepared to offer my three choices from our conference booklet, Creation Care Cookbook, about how a person could help toward caring for creation at home. We had a lively discussion with people offering their own ideas.
Jacqueline Schmitt, our Companion-in-Charge Elect, took us on a deeply researched historical pilgrimage tracing how St. Francis defined the spirituality of Companions from our early days. Jackie quoted from Emily Morgan and Vida Scudder’s writings and the books about St. Francis that Companions discussed at conferences in their time.
She shared fascinating photographs from the settlement movement of the early 20th Century, in which Companions individually tried to address the injustices and suffering of poor women in their communities, industrial workers without education or power. Those Companions struggled with the tension between their relative wealth and privilege and the Franciscan ideal of Holy Poverty.
OUR KEYNOTE SPEAKER CHALLENGED US
Then the keynote presentation by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, who is Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and author of The Church Cracked Open, brought us to today.
She challenged me to:
- Look in the mirror and ask, “What am I? How do I react to the difficult questions?” Example: racism.
- What is our privilege and what is not? (I relate this directly to our work for the unity of all God’s people.)
- As a faith-based community, do we stay the same, or do we need to let go of some of the ways we do things?
- Our guest speaker suggested action words.
Could we be better disciples if we took to those action verbs in our corporate life?
CONTEXT OF THE CONFERENCE
These are tough questions for the Companions. We have prayed fervently about what is happening in the world throughout our history. We have always studied and discussed social issues of the day. As an organization, however, we left it to individual Companions to choose what to work for in the public sphere.
As we updated our bylaws last year, conversations showed that quite a few Companions deeply desire to speak as an organization about issues of justice. Quite a few others believe it is best to stay with our stance of not taking public stands, written into our old bylaws and further embedded in policy. Our new bylaws are silent on whether or how the Companions organization might take action, viewing that as a matter for policy. Our existing policies still effectively prevent the organization from taking public stands.
In this conference, following longstanding tradition, we gave serious study to how Companions have been influenced by St. Francis and St. Clare, and invited Companion ideas about addressing climate change. We took action for self-examination when we asked Stephanie Spellers to keynote the conference. She went straight to the point.
I will remember most clearly the Rev. Spellers’ statement that we are: “Companions of the Holy Cross” but do we act that way?
- If the Holy Cross is Jesus, then we are companions of Jesus.
- Since Jesus is a friend to the outlier and the disenfranchised, then so are we.
- Is it time for us to say what we are?
- If we are who we say we are, we need to act, not just talk.
This is our challenge…where do we go from here? What is the way forward?
What do we need to change? And how?
Change is never simple, but I came away from the conference feeling it is healthy, necessary, and inevitable. Plenty of rich and challenging conversations will follow this conference.
A heartfelt thank you is due to Kathleen Staudt, conference chairwoman, her committee, and all who made this conference happen.
Photo by Lois Blood Bennett