A Seven-Month Honeymoon Sabbatical: Our Journey with BCM and Spiritus Christi

Sarah and MyraBy Sarah Holst

We got married on August 30, 2014 in a park in Duluth, Minnesota. The sun came out just in time for the service. A butterfly joined us on the altar. A flock of seagulls flew over our heads. We had a mixed gender wedding party, a blessing with Lake Superior water was given by our mothers, friends read from Job and Matthew, John O’Donohue and Rumi, and we printed a special acknowledgment in the program to the indigenous people of the area in regards to use of the Lake Superior Watershed, their home.

Two days later, I gratefully traded gown for canoe paddle and plunged my uncharacteristically golden toenails into the muck of the Boundary Waters, further baptizing myself into my new home and new chapter. We had decided to take a period of time to slow to the world, ground into our new calling in relationship, and explore who we wanted to be in the world, individually and together. It felt like an ideal time to let the ground lay fallow, and re-evaluate as we started a new stage.

A split internship with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and Spiritus Christi Catholic Church in Rochester, New York provided the backbone to our pilgrimage. After our week of canoeing and camping, we would go to California and live in Ched and Elaine’s backyard cabin. Here we would study Watershed Discipleship, assist in the yard, help Elaine transcribe her Doctorate of Ministry interviews, and help the Abundant Table Farm Project develop the Alive! Farm and Faith Camp and organize Farm Church: A Community of the Abundant Table. Ched left us with the conviction to learn about the ancient tradition of Christianity, to struggle within it, and use it as our lens for doing healing environmental, economic and racial justice in the world.

We bounced from backpacking in the desert of Utah and Arizona, to our families in the Midwest for the holidays, a brief stay with the Catholic Workers of Memphis, Tennessee for the National Call to Action Conference, to a ten day silent Vipassana Meditation Course. In February, we circled back to Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries as we joined sisters and brothers in the movement at The Festival of Radical Discipleship in Oak View, California, where we met Rev. Mary Ramerman, Myra Brown, and our host for the second long stay of our journey, Mike Boucher.

Mary, Myra and Mike are three of the pillars behind the “holey, roamin’ catholic” community of Spiritus Christi in Rochester, New York. Ched had pointed us in their direction after hearing of my aspirations to be a Roman Catholic Womanpriest (a movement 208 strong internationally). Spiritus Christi ordained Mary in the 90s and Ched sent me to discover whose shoulders I was standing on (I of course took Nathan along for the ride).

We stayed with Mike and Lynne Boucher, and the warmth and fun of their household was the perfect counterbalance to the rich learning that we undertook with the church for the duration of Lent. One of the things that we consistently did during our stay was facilitate evenings with the 20/30s Spiritus community where we talked about church, climate change, racial justice, what our generation was facing in the coming decades, and how we were building alternatives of resilience and hope. Nathan and I realized that we were so hungry for these conversations and happy to pass on some of the wisdom of our sabbatical. “Find mentors. Have intergenerational conversations. Let the wisdom of your elders guide you to significant experiences.” We have been challenged and affirmed by Ched and Elaine, Mary, Myra and Mike. We are accountable to people who have walked the paths of justice before us, and will continue to be shaped by these relationships as we start our work in Minnesota.

One of Nathan’s significant deepening experiences at Spiritus came in the form of a friendship with Rev. Myra Brown.  Early on in the internship they discovered a mutual commitment and passion for racial justice work.  Nathan participated in a training that Myra and another colleague put on at the church, which led to many other conversations about race related work in the community.  One of the most amazing things about the experience were the stories: stories in the church office about the long line of strong African-American women that Myra came from, stories around her dinner table about the generosity of sharing food, and stories on car rides of the rage against racist incidents at work and the difficult balance of compassion and accountability, always with the courageous commitment to speak personal truth.  Stories filled the time like music, and song was the final tread to solidify a deep connection.  Sharing a love for creating song, just before ending the time in Rochester, Nathan and Myra recorded original music together.

We attended a weekly Sermon Group with Rev. Mary, Fr. Jim, Rev. Myra Brown and Mark Potter. Nathan and I each preached twice separately and one weekend of Masses together (for an early earth day celebration). We also had the chance to host a Watershed Discipleship workshop, successfully traveling from students to teachers, and acting as ambassadors of Ched’s work. A unexpected outcome of the workshop was that it facilitated the chance for a group of young people (who had been coming to the 20/30s gatherings) to take on leadership of Spirtus Christi’s ecological group: Mother Earth Community.

After preaching at Spiritus Christi about what it might mean to “die to ourselves” in light of climate crisis, I went through my own chrysalis-season of melting down and changing while under the guidance of Rev. Mary.  Reminded again that this work cannot be idealized, but that at the heart of it is the same challenging stuff of working with and loving people (in all their infinite variety), I more fully came into the understanding that moving forward in my own calling to priesthood will be about learning, knowing and loving the people of a Watershed, getting grounded and dirty, and walking with, rather than in some sort of applauded experience of moving-up.  In addition, I was reminded that living into calling is not as simple as taking on the right set of words and explanations, but rather, coming in and from a courageous completeness of self.  Being at Spiritus Christi for me was not about being given answers or changing direction, but rather deepening in the journey, realizing the implications of that, and letting the central questions arise:  “How are we (women and people of diverse genders) to be priests without emulating the way we’ve always seen men do it?”  “How do we learn from our mentors and continue the story, while standing on our own two feet, bringing our own set of unique experiences and visions into our call?”  “How is brokenness a part of that process?”  “How do we come into our callings in a way that is collaborative instead of competitive?”  I left Rochester feeling re-born: tender but with a heightened sense of incarnation in myself rather than imitation of others.

We are now back in Minnesota and so ready after this period of transience to be beginning the process of rooting into the Lake Superior Watershed long-term.  We know that, largely because of our split internship with BCM and Spiritus Christi, we start our life here already planted into a network of radical disciples.  We have a foundation from the last months of knowing how to be in partnership with one another and which steps are the next on our individual paths of calling.  We are two more seeds planted in this growing field of radical watershed disciples.  Who knows where the Spirit will lead next?

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