By Sister Marcella Clancy
“All Sisters are expected to belong to a Renewed Local Community.”
In 2007, one of the practices begun by our first sisters in 1650 LePuy, France was revived among us. We were encouraged, urged, “expected” to gather ourselves in groups of between 6 and 10 sisters who would come together monthly for “sharing of the heart” and the “order of the house” during what we call Renewed Local Community or RLC.
The kitchen in LePuy, France, where our first sisters gathered to share their hearts.
Having participated in this practice for over 10 years now, I have come to deeply appreciate the wisdom of the Spirit who moved us in this direction. This is a sacred monthly event. Like most sacred events, it is embedded in the very commonplace “stuff” of our everyday lives. We are ordinary women who, like you, experience the loss of family members and dear friends, are pained by the brokenness of those we love, profoundly impacted by the fragility, suffering and joy of those to whom and with whom we ministry, and struggle ourselves, constantly, to be attentive and faithful to God, who is often elusive and always mysteriously beyond our grasp.
RLCs are not business meetings. In fact they are not meetings at all, but rather times of cherished personal communication. Our documents state, “RLCs are a place where courageous, loving, meaningful, celebrative, and intimate conversations take place.” I find it relatively easy to chat on about selected events and activities that have occurred in my life over the last month and with my Irish sense of humor could make it all very entertaining — but that’s not the point. The point is to share where I have recognized, been confronted, or awed by God’s presence in my daily routine of living or… perhaps not found God at all. This is not a place or space where we try to impress one another with our holiness, but rather honestly and transparently “share our heart,” with its struggles, failures, doubts, fears, hopes, joys, and efforts to be brave, to love and to be faithful all within the context of our most ordinary lives. Obviously prayerful reflection, vulnerability, reverence and confidentiality are requisite components of this kind of sharing.
So that’s the “sharing of the heart” but what’s this thing called “order of the house”? It is a strange term and it took us a while to get a grasp on it ourselves. After each woman has shared, we take time to reflect quietly about the common thread we heard in our sharing. Where is the Spirit moving in us as a community, what is the Spirit asking of us, where is the Spirit drawing us? Amazingly there is always a common thread. The Spirit works in us and through us individually, but also as a community. It is in this practice we begin to discern the subtle movement of the Spirit.
So you might be thinking, “What’s the purpose or goal of the RLC? What do you accomplish? Couldn’t you use your time more profitably?” These are good questions, and some of us have asked ourselves these very questions as well. There isn’t any goal. We accomplish nothing. We are unprofitable servants. Sometimes the sharing is wonderful and I want to take off my shoes because I recognize I am on holy ground. And sometimes…not so much. Yet what is significant is the accumulative effect. Without deliberately trying, slowly a profound bond develops, a deep sense of awe develops of how uniquely God works in each of us, and a treasuring of each woman for her sheer goodness grows in our hearts.
Because of the quiet and hidden transforming experience of the RLCs, unwittingly, the sharing of the heart and order of the house has been integrated into all our more formal gatherings as well. Some associates, who are lay men and women who share in the Sisters of St. Joseph’s beliefs, belong to RLCs, and some have formed their own circles. It has become the essential practice in how we become attentive to where the Spirit is leading us as a Congregation.
A meeting of my RLC this winter.
So what’s the point of this blog? Just to impress you? NO! Not at all! In our culture, with all its divisions, with all our constant chatter, with all the many instantaneous ways available to us to communicate, and with often the meanness of social media, we offer an alternate way to communicate. One that is deeply personal, wonderfully healing, and profoundly hope filled. These kinds of small communities with this kind of intimate sharing can exist between spouses, within families, among friends, and even with co-workers. Start your own RLC! Let me know how it works out and find out how deeply you are REVIVED!
About the Author:
Sister Marcella Clancy currently lives in the Detroit area. She offers spiritual direction, serves on Congregational committees, and companions one of our newer members. She loves long walks, good movies, and leisurely lunches with friends.