View at Adelynrood Retreat and Conference Center looking from one of the libraries out onto the porch. There is cozy dark wood with sunshine streaming in through the windows.

Widening Our Membership Criteria

by A. Joan Bowers, Companion, New Hampshire/Vermont Chapter


“…any woman who desires to follow Jesus and the Rule of the Society…”

``We eventually reached what I felt was a worthy compromise – a reconciliation of different viewpoints that would have pleased both of those very different foremothers of ours, Emily Morgan and Vida Scudder.``

When we moved to our retirement community in Concord, NH, just as the pandemic was beginning, one woman became quickly recognizable, even hidden behind a mask, because she often wears an Adelynrood shirt.

Before Our Bylaws Revision of 2021

My new friend has been a member of Friends of Adelynrood for years but could never become a Companion because she is a UCC church member – not an Episcopalian or a member of a church in communion with the Episcopal Church. She speaks glowingly of her years-long friendship with many Companions and her fond memories of being at Adelynrood.

Friends from Many Traditions

Because our retirement community is affiliated with the UCC, I have come to know several UCC members – one of whom used to give programs at Adelynrood – and people from other Christian backgrounds as well.

One of my new friends is, like me, from Nebraska. She grew up in Lincoln, NE, where her father was the Methodist chaplain at the University of Nebraska at the same time that I was involved there with my beloved American Baptist college youth group.

Now when our small local faith community gathers for Evening Prayer on a Monday evening, we use a worship service put together from numerous sources – Catholic, Episcopalian, UCC, Taize, etc.

Wisdom from Many Traditions

And, as I take the time to ponder the books that I kept – after the great winnowing-out that accompanied our downsizing – I realize the extent to which my faith has been formed and challenged by writers from numerous churches and traditions: the Presbyterian poet and retreat leader Marilyn McEntyre; the UCC prophetic writer Walter Brueggemann; various Catholic mystics such as Julian, Clare, and Hildegard; the Baptist writer J. Dana Trent who teaches Christian meditation; the Quaker Parker Palmer who writes so powerfully about vocation; and many others, some from church denominations that can’t be deduced from the names of their local church affiliations.

A Thoughtful Debate

So I seemed to be in a receptive state of mind as the SCHC debated expanding our membership qualifications this past year, and I had friends and those I deeply respected on both sides of the debate.

Having always loved the term “Christian,” and sometimes preferring it as a more inclusive and understandable term than “Episcopalian” (what does THAT mean, people ask about this tiny denomination of ours . . .), I listened carefully to the arguments about how that term has been so co-opted by one group that it has become repugnant to many.

We eventually reached what I felt was a worthy compromise – a reconciliation of different viewpoints that would have pleased both of those very different foremothers of ours, Emily Morgan and Vida Scudder. Both women followed Jesus as they felt led while binding themselves to shared community through our common Rule.

Duly debated and passed, our new bylaws added this to our eligibility criteria: “…or any woman who desires to follow Jesus and the Rule of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross may become a Companion” after fulfilling the requirements spelled out in our policies.

Our discernment process takes a year or two, includes in-depth exploration with two sponsors, and offers the opportunity to explore many spiritual resources and participate in a local chapter (or Far and Near). The journey concludes with a joyful admission service.

Our Understanding of Jesus Evolves

A few months ago I took part in an online workshop for spiritual writers. The keynote speaker was Diana Butler Bass who had recently published her most personal book yet, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence.  

I was particularly interested in Bass’s account of her evolving spiritual journey as she talked about her different conceptions of Jesus at different times in her life.

No, Bass didn’t end up rejecting her earlier concepts of Jesus. Instead, she has come to understand and appreciate each version in a new, expanded, and integrated way. She points out that it is a human temptation to tame or box in Jesus because of our own limitations, being unable to comprehend the mystery of the Divine.

In the Biblical story of the Transfiguration, Peter tries to respond to the mystery he has witnessed by suggesting to Jesus, “’Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.” This attempt to box in the divine gets thwarted when the two prophetic figures depart and a voice announces, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9: 5 – 7)

Throughout Christian history, one way of looking at the proliferation of churches and denominations – each professing to be listening to him – is to think of those separate “booths” proposed by Peter.

New Voices, Fresh Visions

A few years ago, I attended a combined Episcopalian/UCC conference at the Barbara Harris Camp and Conference Center in southern New Hampshire. The speaker, who had graduated from Episcopal Divinity School, was pastor of a small UCC church in Massachusetts.

The topic of the conference was how to be missional “out in the neighborhood.” The speaker was dynamic and relentless in her assertion: “You cannot say you have welcomed anyone into your church unless you have been willing to be changed by them – otherwise you are just looking for clones.”

Like Diana Butler Bass, I have gone through my own arc of a changing and evolving spiritual journey and pray that I am still open to new insights and necessary transformations.

And I pray that the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross will also be open to new insights and necessary transformations, sparked by the new voices and fresh visions of those we welcome.