Love and the Risk of Wounds

Recently I gave a talk at the Boston Christian Community, where, during my practicum, I am serving as ministry assistant, titled “Are You My Brother or My Lover? Learning to Love Through the Gospels.” The idea came from my own concerns and questions around love and discernment.

I may walk through life proclaiming that I am striving to love all of Creation, love as God loves us, love as Christ loves us, which is in fact true—I am striving toward this! But when it comes down to my daily interactions with the people around me, at some point, and more honestly, over and over again, I will have to discern the nature of our relationship, regardless of whether either one
of us is single, married, etc. And this is a two-way street. And it can get very confusing. Are you and I friends? Are we going to be lovers? Frustrated and tired by stories of infidelity and breakups, and recognizing my own potential for unfaithfulness, I asked myself, “Can’t we be better at this?” So, I brazenly titled my talk, “Are You My Brother or My Lover?” in order to get the research going.

Turns out I’d gotten a bit ahead of myself. After preparing for and delivering said talk, I realized that before being able to discern, I had to understand more about intimacy and connection, which led me to Brené Brown and her work on vulnerability. Through her research, she has determined that connection is why we are all here, and that shame—if you see this part of me, you won’t connect with me—is what unravels connection. If you let yourself be really seen, you will experience often excruciating vulnerability. But we cannot avoid this vul- nerability, not without becoming numb to the world. It is the “birthplace of pain, but also of joy, creativity, and even love.” Brown’s research redirected my work, and I found myself re-titling my talk, albeit retroactively, “Letting Myself Be Seen: How Vulnerability Can Be a Selfless Act of Love and Faith.”

My learning has since grown into a workshop that I am helping to facilitate in the Boston Christian Community, around “Fear, Vulnerability, and Faith”, and I am grateful to the small group of individuals who have stepped forward to do this work. We are trying something on, bravely experimenting with a conversa- tion-style workshop, a format that can get personal and messy but one that I am excited to try always with the question “Can’t we be better at this?” When vulnerability becomes particularly uncomfortable, the altar is never far, and I turn to it to remember Christ, who, through His vulnerability, His becoming so profoundly wounded, transformed the entire earth. This is the task that is burning within me.

by EMMA HEIRMAN

Becoming Priests

The Open Course “From Priest Ordination to Priesthood” gave us a glimpse into the journey of becoming a priest. We contemplated the mystery, origin, and purpose of the sacraments as illuminated by our many wise and learned priest-teachers. I learned that all true rituals are mirrors in the physical world of what exists in the spiritual world. The sacraments are celebrated by angels reaching upward through the hierarchies all the way up to the altar of the Trinity.

The task of a priest is to stand as a bridge between the spiritual worlds and humanity. This role requires honesty, self-awareness, true humility, spiritual discipline, and a constant willingness to serve the Christ. We learned that it is not easy. Our teachers made it clear that the office of priesthood is something that is given from the spiritual world and it requires daily diligence. It is not a personal accomplishment, but a gesture of devoted obedience that allows the grace of God to descend.

The journey toward priesthood can be fraught with challenges. In a real sense, so many forces would prefer if no one walked this path. I asked the seminarians what they were experiencing:

– Vera said that while the adversary may attack us, the whole spiritual world wants us to succeed, and that she feels their help greatly: “The journey to priesthood would not be possible without their help.”

– Manuel said that the trials he encounters on this journey feel very precise: “The enemy has good aim. He knows where we are weak, and that is helpful, because it shows you where you need to grow.”

– Olive described her journey in terms of how her friends responded to her: When she was merely a “seeker,” they were supportive, but when she declared her intention to follow the priest training, “it was as if my friends became cold, no longer trusted me or understood what I was doing with my life.” She felt their aversion and realized that the further one goes on the Christian path, the more antagonism one is likely to encounter in a culture that is based on materi- alistic values.

– Melissa described her decision to study at the Seminary to be one of the best of her life so far. She highly recommends a worthwhile year at the Seminary to anyone who wishes to deepen his or her relationship with the Christian Commu- nity.

– Linda said that she feels very grateful to be at the Seminary where she is deepening her relationship with Christ and with the Sacraments, and she is grateful to Bastiaan and to all of the priests who share their wisdom and experi- ence and help the Seminarians when there are “bumps in the road.”

All of the students expressed immense gratitude for their teachers and for the spiritual gifts they were receiving in this course and in their other courses. Each person, no matter how widely varied the contours of his or her life-experience, finds a home here, a cocoon in which it is possible to undergo the transforma- tion from aspirant toward priest.

by DIANA HAYNES

Impressions of the Ordination

Joyful expectation was lingering in the air as we prepared for the Sacrament of Ordination. In the week leading up to it, there had been an open course at the Seminary on the theme From Priest Ordination to Priesthood, involving twelve outside participants, six seminary students, and four priests. Participants traveled from places as far away as Germany, Costa Rica, California, Québec, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. As Bastiaan pointed out, the open course participants were not only to witness the receiving of the ordination sacrament, but were preparing through the open course to give something back to the spiritual world, from which the sacrament was coming.

Finally it was Saturday, March 14, the day of the ordination! After we all were seated, about fifteen minutes of silence filled the space before the 16 priests filed in, clothed in vestments, and took their seats on both sides of the altar space. Lisa came out next and took her seat on a bench in the center of the altar space, facing the altar. The celebrant of the ordination, Erzoberlenker Vicke von Behr, followed with two servers who were both priests.

Experiencing the sacrament from the congregation felt extremely humbling, intimate, and sacred. The feeling came that Christ was very, very happy about this ordination and that the divine world was rejoicing because someone else had made it to this point on the path. Now Lisa would be helping to serve Him and was becoming a tool through which He can work and be more present among us.

It was quite powerful to witness the extraordinary individuals (priests) giving their prayers and attention to the ordination candidate, all participating in one sacrament. At one point, their voices resounded simultaneously in affirmation: “Yea, So Be It!” And thus, a new priest was birthed into the world!

On Sunday, experiencing the first Act of Consecration celebrated by Rev. Lisa Hildreth was incredibly beautiful and refreshing. There was a young and pure quality present within the service, together with the feeling that Lisa had been celebrating for a long, long time already. Lisa’s voice was warm, calm, steady, and had a peaceful conviction (despite the full chapel, she did not seem to be swayed!). The peace-greeting at the end of the communion had a loving strength, devotion, and deep peace.

Rev. Vicke von Behr confirmed my feeling that the ordination is indeed a kind of wedding. Through ordination, the priest, in a sense, becomes married to the circle of priests. Vicke left us with a word of advice: “That is the problem with us (human beings) … in sacrificing, there is a little fear that we might vanish.” But in truth, in giving something away, we have not less, but more. There is sacrifice involved in priesthood, he said, but “… it will take nothing away. Your life will become much, much richer.”

To witness the transition of a classmate into priesthood was definitely reassuring … that our training can really lead to a culmination through which a layperson can transform so beautifully into a celebrant! Congratulations, Lisa!

by MELISSA BARTON

O Pioneer!

Being a pioneer—this character trait flows in the life blood of Americans. It helped me be the first to step up to the altar after completing a full priest training at the North American Seminary of the Christian Community.

My journey to the altar began in the summer of 2009, when my husband woke up with the thought that I should go to
the seminary and prepare to become a priest. I was a Waldorf kindergarten teacher at that time, and was surprised at how quickly this new thought took hold of my life and began to change it. By the time I began Seminary training in September 2011, I had left teaching, given away half of our possessions, sold our family home, and moved the family to a different state, leaving friends and familiar surroundings behind.

Life as a first-year student was fulfilling and challenging. Seminary is a kind of karmic fast-track; if you are open, you can quickly work through what normally takes years to acknowledge and transform. In times of struggle, when I felt like the ground was shaking beneath my feet, what flowed from our daily experi- ence of the Act of Consecration of Man became the ground on which I stood.

In the fall of 2012, a second year of the priest training was offered in North America for the first time. Emma Heirman and I were the ground-breaking students, entering this pioneering phase along with Seminary Directors, Gisela Wielki and Oliver Steinrueck. It took a few more months before another import- ant participant in this adventure, Bastiaan Baan, was able to join us. It seems that the government of the United States was not as excited about pioneering as we were, as it slowed down the entry of our new Seminary Director with visa paperwork!

It was on Good Friday of 2013 that Bastiaan and Gisela told me that they were sending me to Forest Row, England for the first part of my internship. This was a place that I had always wished to go, but would the umbilical cord that ran between my family in Massachusetts and the Seminary in Spring Valley stretch all the way across the Atlantic? After prayerful consideration, I put my trust in the seminary process and said yes. And so my year of “practical experience” was spent with two wonderful congregations and in two beautiful places: Forest Row and the Taconic/Berkshire Christian Community in Hillsdale, NY. The priests and the members that I met during this time helped me understand in a deeper way the need for the sacraments in our very human lives. These experiences away from home also helped shake me free from place, things, and the shelter of the family, freeing me to be who I am no matter where I am or whom I am with.

I had reached the end of the seminary path. Now I could go further only if invited to do so by the Circle of Seven, the leadership and spiritual organ of the Christian Community. So in June of 2014, I journeyed to Berlin along with fifteen other candidates to meet with the leadership. This was not my first trip to Germany; Emma and I had already spent a number of weeks at the Stutt- gart Seminary, getting to know the other students, experiencing the Seminary culture, and visiting German congregations. Emma had even spent her intern- ship year in Germany. But this visit to Berlin was a threshold moment.

I was invited to step across this threshold and in October, 2014 I entered the final phase of the priest training. I was the only student from the North Ameri- can Seminary to move forward at this time, as Emma decided to postpone her entry. Pioneering can be a lonely task! So the Circle of Seven invited me to participate in some of the classes with the others preparing for ordination at the Stuttgart Seminary. I spent October and February in Stuttgart, with my transla- tor and colleague, Rafal Nowak, whispering English in my ear during classes. In November, December, January, and March I was trained in Spring Valley.

ChristianInitiation

I was ordained in Spring Valley on March 14, surrounded by priests, students, congregation members, and the ever-present spiritual world. One can hardly describe the miracle of this moment—so many things had to come together in just such a way, so many doors had to open, and so many people had to give of themselves to allow me to step up to the altar for this sacrament. It was a deep and moving experience. It was nourishment for the souls standing as witnesses, for the life of the Seminary, and for the work of the Christian Community in North America.

The path to the eye of the needle may be narrow, but when you reach the other side, everything widens out again. To walk this narrow path, I had to let the old fall away, stand up and face my fears, and learn to trust in the guidance of the spiritual world. Now standing on the other side, it is time to step out into the wide world and take up my task as priest. Where would I be sent? After all the homelessness and wanderings, I am back home, in the Boston Christian Community! I may have returned to a place that is familiar, living with family once again, but I have come a long way. I am born anew.

by LISA HILDRETH
picture1: Rev. Lisa Hildreth with her husband Arthur
picture2: Impressions from our course on Christian Initiation by Vera

Ordained in Stuttgart

It is fulfilled – It has begun.

On Sunday, March 1, along with fellow preparation and ordination trimesters student Michael Rheinheimer, I received the Sacrament of Priesthood in Stuttgart, Germany. We sat before the altar, supported by three others, Anke Nerlich and Carlos Maranhao, who had been ordained the day before, and Lisa Hildreth, who would be ordained in Spring Valley two weeks later.

Ordination is a unique and powerful threshold, where the fore- and forth going parts of life unite in the intense Here and Now. Two Germans: one a classical musician turned pragmatic housemother for many years and the other an idealistic seeker of the Grail with a background in theater; one Brazilian former bank worker in São Paulo turned Waldorf teacher literally overnight; one American wife, mother, and Waldorf kindergarten teacher with a good amount of humor and a very big heart; and me, a Pole turned American as the result of, let’s just say “a highly improvised biographical experiment” in my early twenties. What a journey it has been for all of us! And where will it take us? Hamburg, Bonn, Kassel (and soon São Paulo), Boston, Darmstadt … for starters! All these places, so very different in history, mentality, climate, and local character, nevertheless have something in common: In each of them is an altar where communities of free Christians gather and celebrate the Act of Consecration of Man. We are joining them now, full of awe and goodwill, aware of our mission within our community, wearing His sandals on our feet …

It has indeed been a complex and intense way that led me to this moment: It began on Staten Island (a borough of New York City), where, during a conference in the summer of 2005, I realized that I had found my “pearl” and decided to join the priest training. That led to the year at the Chicago Seminary, where, with others, I had a chance to meet and get to know wonderful members and friends of the Christian Community in Chicago;
it led further through the community in the great city of New York, where aside from meeting devoted friends, I met my wife, Senzelle, and where our firstborn, Jozef, was baptized in 2008; through the community in Spring Valley, which became our home for nearly five years and where our daughter Oriana was baptized in 2010; through the community in San Francisco, which became our oasis at the time we lived in the Big Valley, and where our son Tobias was baptized in December 2013 … through communities in Hillsdale, Denver, and Los Angeles, which I had a chance to visit and where I always felt at home, even if only for a short time …

Thank you all, dear friends, teachers and colleagues whom I had the privilege to meet on my way to priesthood. Each of those meetings was important and had a formative, shaping quality. Each was essential in order for me to make this step and cross this threshold—the threshold to Becoming.

by RAFAL NOWAK