Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Summer Sisters 2018

Once again this year, I would like to extend the invitation to join in building community with me here in St. Louis, for a period of time during the summer. It can be the experience you seek: Retreat. Sabbath Time. Vacation. R&R. Embodied Commitment to Sustainability. Emersion in an Urban Ecovillage. Nurturing body, spirit, the future of religious life.
We'll have to work around the house schedule which is a little crazy this year - but then when is life not crazy. Let's do what we can.
Here's a link to a prior invitation. If you're interested, drop me a line and we'll talk more.
ALSO - if any women discerning religious life would like to spend several weeks in a live-in experience, let me know and we will see what we can arrange for that too. We have several houses where you might be able to join us.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Who Are We and Where Are We Going?

I was recently asked to respond on video to the questions:
What is the NEW that Women Religious are about today?
What is emerging in the world that Women Religious need to be about?
This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the gift that religious life has been to me, and continues to be to those who are called and to all those with whom and for whom they respond.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

How Do You Know?

Since I have been working in vocation ministry, people have asked on occasion: how do you know you are called? How do you know what you're called to? How do you know it is right for you? Really, how can anyone possibly know what God has in store for them?
It is an important question, but there is no easy answer. I would probably answer it differently every time. How do I know? How did I know when I was in my twenties and I entered religious life? How do I know it is still right for me?
I guess that the answer I would give today is that it's about

  • God, 
  • Community and 
  • Mission. 
Or, as we have come to say in our "CSJ world" i.e. our Sister of St. Joseph world, it's about
  • Community
  • Spirituality
  • Justice
So first off, it's about God or Spirituality. Do I have a relationship with God? Is God tugging at my heart for a deeper relationship? Do I find joy and peace when I am with my God in prayer? as well as when I am living out of that God-relationship in community and in mission? God is the center of our lives, and in religious life, we live out of that centrality. We are privileged to have a lifetime of spiritual growth and development. And this is a gift that grounds the rest of our life, and enables us to share spirituality with all those we meet. 
Second, it's about Community. Do I feel called to share my journey of spirituality and mission with other sisters or brothers who are committing to the same life journey? Do I have the skills to live in community? Can I share? trust? respect? love? Can I build community with all those God calls me to live with? Am I ready to do the work of community? - for a lifetime? There's no walking away when the times get touch, or someone gets on my nerves. We learn to love one another in our brokenness, and we love one another into wholeness. This wholeness does not mean that we never get on one another's nerves, it means that we have learned to reverence each other as gifts of God. We love and support each other in our differences, in our trials and in our joys.
Finally it's about Mission or Justice. We come together to see the world with God's eyes. To bring God's love in very concrete ways into our world. We do not bend the bruised reed or crush the smoldering wick. Instead we bring light into the dark places, hope to the despairing, joy to the sorrowful. We do this in concrete ways: by embracing the weak and the poor, by lifting up those that are bowed down, by bringing the healing, creative power of God to each person we meet and each place we inhabit.
I see my lay brothers and sisters doing the same, in their particular vocation. In religious life, we do this in community, shaped by our spirituality and the vows. I thank God for this gift.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Questions...

The Five Best Questions A Job Candidate Can Ask ...Changes in vocation and formation ministry are raising new questions, particularly collaborative formation programs on the national or international scale. These programs may gather women or men from various parts of the country or the world. Candidates may be engaging in the formation program in a language and culture that are not their own. It is important to ask how this new reality may impact those we invite, and those who will be successful in our formation programs. Someone who struggles with language or culture may be unwilling or unable to enter or complete our formation programs. Are these men and women called to religious life? Are there communities where they can live and grow? Are we impoverished if we cannot accept them with the gifts they bring?
The same changes raise questions of cost and carbon-footprint. A few generations ago, candidates came by bus, and stayed in the formation community until they were ready to go out on mission. Now home visits are much more common and often involve air-travel. In a national or international formation program, our newer sisters and brothers become frequent fliers before final vows. The saying goes: “join the convent and see the world!” While travel and collaboration may be unprecedented gifts, can we also ask about the life-style we are modeling and about its impact on the environment?
Finally, this level of collaboration in formation has begun to raise questions about the ongoing accompaniment of candidates through the formation process. A new brother or sister who raises concerns at various points in the formation program may be given the benefit of the doubt. If these programs are in different places and even different countries, it is more difficult to get a clear picture of the candidate’s deepening sense of vocation and commitment, and to connect the dots regarding troublesome behaviors. In some recent cases, when a brother or sister settled down after final vows, the community got a first clear and consistent picture of them, only to realize that they should never have made vows and perhaps should be dismissed.
All this is not to say we should immediately pull back from collaborative programs, but simply to invite us to continued discernment as to the best ways to continue inviting women and men into religious life and the best ways of accompanying them in inquiry, discernment and formation.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Living In Unity, Working With Love

Podcast: https://www.sisterstory.org/story/community-education-prayer/living-unity-working-love

...I am Sr Amy Hereford. I am a sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet from St. Louis Missouri. By way of ministry, I do civil and canon law for religious communities. So, I work with a lot of communities as they are facing tough issues, facing changes in their communities, and just walk them through that change, help them understand what their choices are, and what the consequences of the choices are. So, it brings me in contact a lot of fascinating people from different religious communities, different sisters, different brothers, etc.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Out of the Convent, Into the Street

The people of St. Louis are trying to process another not-guilty decision in another police shooting that left another young black man named Anthony Lamar Smith dead. I thought I was ‘woke’. I thought I 'got'  racism, as much as a white middle-aged woman could. And for this reason, I took to the streets.
On the one hand, I saw amazing moments of solidarity, community and grass roots work by blacks and whites and everyone in between. Keisha Mabry wrote a piece entitled 25 Magical Moments From The Anthony Lamar Smith Protest. Yes, yes, and double yes. I as a middle-aged white woman thought I was seeing this. I am so glad that Keisha named it so well. We are so far ahead of where we were in Ferguson just three years ago, though in truth, we have many miles still to go.
In Ferguson, we heard, we saw, we experienced, we cried, we raged, and we all went home, and many of us came together to try to do our homework. I went to groups where we talked about white privilege and how to address it in the white community. I learned about unpacking my own racism and how to begin being a better ally to my brothers and sisters of color. I wasn’t sure it was making a difference, but my brothers and sisters of color assured me this would make a difference in their lives.
I come back to the streets in 2017 much more prepared. And I think the black community was doing its homework as well. We come back to the streets organized, determined, ready to do the work of justice with the sometimes awkward, partially-woke white community. And the result is the magic we are seeing on the streets.
The police did their homework as well, but the narrative they were working from was how to quell a riot. Well, this is not a riot – this is a peaceful assembly with a clear and persistent message. The people show up: people of color, people of all colors and people of no color. We peacefully assemble, we speak freely, we petition the government to address our grievances, and it’s protected by the constitution which forbids:
…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We are doing something fundamental to the very existence of our democracy. And the police show up in riot gear with tear gas, pepper spray, zip-ties for mass arrests, and riot guns. So the crowd chats:
I don’t see no riot here.
Why are you in riot gear?
The crowds, a few hundred strong are peaceful, collaborative, disciplined and proud.
Tell me what democracy looks like.
This is what democracy looks like.
One of the actions was an interfaith prayer service. We prayed together, and people even gave speeches to God. People spoke of their faith, their hope, their courage. People spoke of justice and of Gods creation of all peoples to be brother and sisters. People spoke of the grace that disturbs systems of injustice and calls us back to a holy indignation that recognizes and dismantles systems of oppression. Then we marched; we prayed with our feet. And we chanted:
Tell me what theology looks like.
This is what theology looks like.
At one point when I was out on the street, the group was gathered and chanting. Earlier in the day, the police had interrupted an otherwise peaceful protest and started indiscriminately arresting people. So we gathered outside the jail where they were being held. We marched around the area a bit.
I wanted to move outside the group and onto a nearby sidewalk to join a friend. In order to do so, I had to cross a police line that was forming. The officer in semi-riot gear said I couldn’t cross. What??? I told the officer I wanted to join my friend on the sidewalk. He said he had orders not to let anyone out of the group. What??? I asked “Am I being detained?” – knowing that he would have to articulate reasonable cause to suspect me of something. He said he would have to ask his sergeant. They ended up letting me go. But I’m a white middle-aged woman, and the first cop could have been my grandson.
No one was arrested in the action – but only because the protesters kept their cool, kept on message, kept strong and kept together, in the face of aggression from law-enforcement. I repeatedly see the elegance of their planning, organizing and actions. And by the grace of God, they elude the threatening officers.
Walking away from these actions, I am every more ‘woke’ to the brutality of racism. I can go to a protest or stay home. I can walk across a police line on the grounds of my race. But my sisters and brothers of color can't leave their race at home and breath the freedom I live - even just for a day.
Now I must say, that some officers have been courteous, fair and restrained in some tough situations. I thank them for that and I thank them for the many ways they serve and protect the community. At the same time, it is clear that the police have an element of brutality in their midst. These departments have clearly trained to quell riots. But they seem unable at times to distinguish between a riot and a peaceful assembly protected by the constitution.
I heard an officer report on his radio that a dispersal order had been given, when there was no dispersal order audible. I was close to the officers and the crowd and heard no such order. However, shortly thereafter, squads of riot police appeared on the scene. Why was that report given, when it was clearly wrong? What is wrong with this system? I hear the protesters’ chant, and I seem to see it validated:
The whole damn system is guilty as hell.
I see my brothers and sisters of color who have lived with this system day in and day out, year in and year out, decade after decade. I’m only beginning to see what they have lived with for a lifetime, and too often for a lifetime cut short by violence. My heart is breaking.
I turn to the men and women in blue. In another day, in another place, we walk the streets together, we do festivals together, we pray together in the same churches. Can we talk? Can we talk about the magical moments that are happening on the streets. Yes, sometimes the police protect the crowds as we come together to link arms and build the beloved community. Other times…. there is something powerfully and painfully wrong. And I believe that we can come together. Violence isn’t the answer.
–Sr. Amy

Friday, October 13, 2017

Summer Journey: Q&A with Sister Amy

by Kelly Davis, CSJ communications intern
Attorney and canonist Sister Amy Hereford combined work and pleasure this summer on a whirlwind trip that took her to Rome and across Ireland for six weeks. In Rome, S. Amy participated in an international canon law conference and other meetings before heading out to Ireland, where she met up with travel companion Sister Mary Louise Basler. Her work continued as she facilitated meetings and workshops with congregations of women religious in Ireland. Read about S. Amy’s recent journey and the cultural influences she experienced.
Q: How did this trip come to be?
A: It started when a community in Ireland invited me to come for a reflective workshop on the future of religious life. After that invitation came, another group invited me to work with them in Ireland. Since I would already be there, I said yes to them too. I also needed to attend some meetings in Rome and the canon law conference was in the same timeframe. It just unfolded piece by piece.
Q: What has impacted you the most from your experience?
A: The differences in the ways people think and believe shapes their culture, and I loved learning about these differences, because talking about the future of religious life and how it unfolds is impacted by culture. Having time to do some traveling, talk to sisters, learn about the similarities and differences in cultures and their experiences has been so rewarding. I learned so much about how the lives we live are very similar, even when our cultures differ.
Q: What was your favorite part of this trip?
A: When you walk down the streets here in America you pass a Taco Bell, a post office, maybe a coffee shop. When you walk down the streets in other countries you also pass a Taco Bell, a post office, a coffee shop, and then a giant castle. The history is so embedded in the culture, that eventually you think “Of course there’s a castle there.” The difference in culture was evident, yet there were also so many similarities.
Q: Were there any challenges you faced through this experience?
A: Because I have talked about the topic of the future of religious life before, I understand that each group is different. I can bring insight which can bring people together. But when I start to talk about the future, each group has something they specifically need to hear. It’s challenging to know what this particular group needs to hear, what insights it needs, what will spark their hope and their imagination. For me, it is a humbling challenge of asking God to work through me, and to allow these people to hear what they need through what I say.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Right now, I am teaching a course at the University of Dayton. I continue to write, speak and reflect on the future of religious life; every time I have a conversation I gain new insights. When I present, people bring up things I may not have realized or thought about before. There is also more
writing coming for me. There is a possibility of another book and a few articles.
Q: What takeaways did you gain from this trip?
A: I continue to sit with the particular situation of a local church, and the ups and downs they go through. It makes me realize even though different churches in different places will have different challenges and different situations, they are still similar. There is a connection; no matter how different the underlying issues might be, we are all facing these things together. Making connections and building relationships plugs me into the global evolution taking place in religious life.