Wednesday, May 19, 2010


A friend writes:

Our new bishop came back from the House of Bishops with all sorts of news - the one item that intrigued me most seemed to confuse almost every other person in the room - that they will be looking at the role of (and place in the church - and structure for?) "anchorites" and "solitaries."

And who are they going to consult about this?

On June 12 I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of my solemn vows, which I made after exacting preparation. As far as we know I was the first publicly professed solitary (there were some privately professed before me) since the Reformation. The bishop who professed me, Paul Moore, was visitor to seven religious communities at the time. He made me go public, professing me as a solitary religious for the whole church because, he said, he wanted to show the world that there was a way to live the religious life without losing your mind.

The communities were enraged that someone escaped the net. At one point they proposed that there should be a "registry" of solitaries—why not ask us to wear a yellow star as well? Not one person from the religious communities on either side of the Pond (nor one bishop) ever approached me about what my preparation had been, how I understood the life, or anything about what I was doing, but the slander machine went into high gear, all the way to Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury. John Allen, then Presiding Bishop, was very supportive, as were the Canons of Christ Church where I was then living in Oxford, Rowan Williams (now my bishop) and others.

And it was the religious communities who subsequently wrote the absolutely dreadful legislation that dictates the life of solitaries in TEC, making them tame ciphers instead of being able to live the role of speaking truth to power set out by the desert fathers and mothers. This legislation practically guarantees failure.

The situation has become so dreadful that solitaries are now talking about professing other solitaries, bypassing the hierarchy, and it is quite possible that this may be the only way forward. Under present conditions, the solitary life is reduced to performance art—as is, sadly, much of the life of the church.


Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Scott writes:


Thanks much for this! So timely and apt. My bishop called last month and asked that I take solitary vows. I am an anchorite and already am under vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and prayer as an oblate in the Order of Julian of Norwich.

I would much like to have your advice and input in deciding how to proceed on the bishop's request. Would you be willing to do so?

1:10 am, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Dear Scott,

I can't comment without knowing more detail. If you send me your email we can correspond privately; I moderate all comments and won't publish your email address.

The problem is that the whole system needs overhauling and the bishops are only interested in covering their rears, not in nurturing the vocation or in discernment—not that most of them would be capable of such discernment.

As Jesus says in John 14: you can behold, but the system cannot behold, and because the system cannot behold, it cannot receive the spirit of truth. Check the Greek interlinear if you need confirmation! Timely words for Pentecost.


1:13 am, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

David, a priest, writes: " I continue to find your blog a huge help. Why does it often seem to be the only help around?"

2:43 pm, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Gloriamarie Amalfitano said...

An acquaintance, interested in the Solitary life, told me that he had heard that at General Convention there was a motion to suppress the vocation of Solitary I the Episcopal Church. I posted the question to the email list House of Bishops and Deputies and no one there had heard of such a motion.

The next step was to email the chair person of the Standing Committee on Religious Life who also told me that there was no such motion. But he did volunteer that the vocation of Solitary had come under discussion at the last House of Bishops meeting as Bishops had been requesting more guidance about the nature of this vocation.

He also sent me a set of guidelines that had been presented to the House of Bishops. These guidelines are available on the email list, Episcopal Solitaries at:
Please note that it is necessary to join the list to access the files.

3:35 pm, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Gloriamarie, Why don't you email me these guidelines? I for one am not about to join any Yahoo group for privacy issues, and these guidelines should be made public along with their source. Who created them?

4:11 pm, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

These guidelines were created by Bishop Sisk and have no canonical authority. They are a guarantee of failure, both of discernment and living the life. They are designed for benefit of the bureaucrat, not for life in God. It is presented as two comments because the file is too big.

Part I


Preface: The Solitary Life is an unusual and uncommon vocation in the life of prayer. It has connections, precedents and similarities to other vowed witnesses in Christian spirituality (e.g. - hermits, contemplatives, anchorites). The most common modern practice does not involve being a recluse.

The vows of a Solitary are received by the Diocesan Bishop, not in his or her person but in the “office” of the Diocesan Bishop itself.
The Solitary will physically reside within the jurisdiction of the Diocesan Bishop who received the vows.
Should the Solitary desire to move physically to another diocese, permission must be granted by both the sending Bishop and the receiving Diocesan Bishop in order for the Solitary’s vows to continue to be held by the Church.
The Bishop can release a Solitary from his or her vows upon receiving a written request from the Solitary and an endorsing letter from the Solitary’s spiritual director that this decision has been reached after prayer and consultation.

Application Process & Discernment:

àA WRITTEN STATEMENT - should be submitted, outlining:

a) a description of what the applicant believes the Solitary witness is…what it involves….and how it differs from other lay vocations,

b) how the applicant learned of this baptismal witness and how long s/he has considered applying for it (i.e. – why this ministry?, why now?),

c) a review of the applicant’s life, spiritual journey, ministry now & a copy of his/her Rule of Life,

d) a review of the applicant’s life in community, and

e) a description of the applicant’s work and income, with a signed statement that s/he is debt free and is registered with social security.
àCORROBORATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS – Letters of reference and support should be submitted by A) the applicant’s parish priest, B) 1 layperson known to the applicant, C) 1 layperson familiar with the vocation, and D) a spiritual director.

àINTERVIEWS & EVALUATIONS - 3 face-to-face interviews with persons selected by the Bishop will be required, with subsequent confidential reports to the Bishop.

àPSYCHIATRIC EVALUATION - A psychiatric evaluation for suitability is required, after psychological testing has been completed. The cost of this evaluation is to be paid by the applicant.

àBACKGROUND CHECK – A five-year background check is to be conducted.

àANNUAL VOWS - This vocation will be considered only after five (5) years of testing. After clearance from the initial screening and discernment stage, there will be five years of Annual Vows preceding a Life Profession.

àHABIT & TITLE – The wearing of any distinctive habit – or the use of any title – is prohibited until after Life Profession. After Life Profession these customs must be limited to liturgical events and appropriate specific ecclesial occasions.

After Life Profession:
è Each Solitary shall have his or her own Advisory Board, comprised of three persons, appointed by the Bishop. The Bishop will consult with the Solitary for suggestions of persons he or she would recommend to the Bishop for appointment. This Advisory Board shall meet with the Solitary (individually or together) a few times each year. However, at least once annually they will meet together, as a Board, with or without the Solitary. The Advisory Board will send an annual letter to the Bishop reporting on the Solitary’s ministry and welfare.

4:42 pm, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Part 2

è Each Solitary shall give written permission for the Bishop to be in contact with that Solitary’s Spiritual Director.
è At the Bishop’s prerogative, the Solitary may be required to have a psychological evaluation.

è Each Solitary shall annually submit a written report to the Bishop, outlining the past year’s work, describing plans for the next year, and generally updating the Bishop on this person’s witness in this particular vocation.

è Each Solitary shall meet annually (during Advent) with the Bishop, or the Bishop’s representative, to review their annual report.

è Each Solitary shall sign a waiver stating that, while they have made Life Vows before the Bishop of ________, they do not constitute a legal or canonical entity of the Diocese of __________, do not officially represent the Bishop, and cannot claim official status in the Episcopal Church.

4:42 pm, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Here are some minutes from the HOB committee on religious life. Anyone know who this "Sister Judith" is and why she contacted the committee?

Page 1

Minutes House of Bishops’ Standing Committee on Religious Communities February 16, 2010 – 2:00pm (CST) Conference Call Those present: Russ Jacobus (chair), Chris Epting, Michael Garrison, Barry Howe, Gordon Scruton, Mark Sisk, Arthur Williams. The chair opened the conference call with a prayer for Monastic Orders and Vocations (BCP page 819). An explanation of what the HOB Planning Committee was wanting from our committee for a half hour presentation at the March 2010 HOB meeting was presented. Our time frame is on Wednesday, March 24 th at 10:00am. Clay Matthews had previously indicated they wanted: • present the materials developed by New York and reviewed by the Committee as a standard to consider • have some discussion about practice around the church • take up the concern raised in the paper by Dean Wolfe’s Canon about whether or not this is a calling which is suitable for the Church today After discussion it was decided that the Chair of the committee would present the topic. Wewould also ask how many Bishops have Solitaries. Also, how many have had good experiences with Solitaries; and how many have had bad experiences? Following that, Mark Sisk would present the work he has done on Guidelines for Bishops in the Oversight of Solitaries. Then Barry Howe would open the floor for questions, comments, and discussion. The full committee would be seated on the dais and would take notes on the comments and discussion. Materials to be copied and distributed to the House prior to the presentation would include: a copy of Title III Canon 14; Sr. Judith’s letter to Sisk dated 12/28/09; Sr. Judith’s “The Eremitic Monastic Vocation”; Sisk’s “A Guide to the Reception & Oversight of Those Called to the Lifeof a Solitary”; and Canon Grosso’s piece on “Theological Reflections on Cenobitic and Eremitic Monasticism. (Copies of these were sent to committee members immediately following the conference call.) Discussion was held regarding the request by the Presiding Bishop to consider recognition of “The Episcopal Community.” Materials were sent via e-mail prior to the conference call.) Comments were made that this is not a “monastic” community which did not take “life vows”, was no different from national ECW or Brotherhood of St. Andrew (none of which we have oversight for), and that Daughters of the King, The Episcopal Communities’ predecessor organization, was listed in the Red Book as a Devotional Society (also not under our oversight). It was decided that the chair should write the Presiding Bishop indicating that the Committee does not feel this is under our purview for the above reasons. Discussion of the Committee’s use of the General Convention Office Extranet site for our use was short. It was felt that this small committee did not need this sight for use. Jacobus mentioned that the Annual Report Forms were sent out and that 15 of the 34 forms have been returned at this point. They are due March 1 st . Jacobus said that the leadership of both COROA and NAECC said they would be willing to follow up on forms that were not in following that date.
Page 2
The Committee will have a luncheon meeting at Camp Allen during the House of Bishops’ meeting. Clay Matthews will set this up. The conference call adjourned with prayer at 2:35pm (CST). Submitted byChair of the HOB Committee on Religious Communities

5:01 pm, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Gloriamarie Amalfitano said...

The same person who sent me the guidelines also sent me a position paper by Sr Judith and 2 letters from only 2 Solitaries answering some very specific questions that had been put to them. One of these was also Sr. Judith. What disturbs me is that the voices of only ***two*** Solitaries were heard from. Why only two and why only these two? Why not some of the rest of us? Especially why not from Maggie Ross, of all Solitaries?

Thinking that Sr Judith's material was for public distribution, I had posted it to my list, Episcopal Solitaries. Someone on that list must know her because because she contacted me personally to tell me that I did not have her permission to post her stuff. She was confused that some would interpret her words as official when they are her thoughts. So I took them of the list's website.

However the impression lingers that because her position paper was distributed among the Bishops, it will also become one of the tools used by the Bishop in working with aspirant Solitaries.

When I raised this point with Sr Judith, she agreed that was a likely scenario. When I suggested it would be well for aspirants to have access to her piece, via the email list Episcopal Solitaries, or another distribution method, to study as they prayerfully consider this vocation, she demurred.

One concern is that if a person is given something by their Bishop, they are in fact going to consider it official. Another is that if this material is deemed useful, might its usefulness increase if available earlier?

8:57 pm, May 20, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Jane Smith writes:

Dear Maggie and others

I am a non-professed solitary, living in South Africa.

Thank you so much for this and other blogs - I find them so helpful. Even if you're a solitary, it's nice to know you're not alone :)!

I think those guidelines sound the sort of thing a particularly "control-freak" employer might draw up. They leave me astonished and, frankly, appalled.

Jane Smith

1:41 pm, May 27, 2010  
Blogger Gloriamarie Amalfitano said...

My view of the Guidelines is that they are written in order to protect the diocese and the Bishop. They are not written in terms of service to the aspiring Solitary.

Overall, I am becoming disllusioned with this vocation because my rector seems to think he is in charge and not God. And on top of that, these Guidelines.

I am furthermore disturbed that only 2 Solitaries presented any sort of information about the vocation. There are more of us than that and if TEC is going to adopt "Guidelines" then why on earth weren't more of us allowed to offer our views.

I told the Chair of the Standing Committee on Religious Life that I wanted to present some material and was told by him that the Bishops would not be discussing this again.

All in all it feels to me like too much "control freak" stuff and altogether too little of the Holy Spirit.

1:22 am, June 03, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Pat Hobson writes:

I admit that I could not finish reading the suggested "Guide to the
Reception and Oversight of Those Called to the Life of a Solitary" due to the effrontery & implications of the title itself, and because of the opening statement---
Preface: The Solitary Life is an unusual and uncommon vocation in the life of prayer.
What is so unusual and uncommon about the life of prayer? "unusual" and "uncommon" often imply unacceptable, undesireable,or uncontrollable. I get the distinct impression that had the formulators of the proposed guidelines for solitaries run into any decent Old Testament prophet, they would have started formulating guidelines for him, too! OT prophets must de under the guidance of an older prophet, designated by the local religious group's ruling body, or the latest heretical king, or both. OT prophet must not relay IM's from God beginning with "Thus says the Lord" without first vetting said prophecy through local religious body, and then the regional educational authorities, and finally the local & national police, any of whom can stop said prophecy if they deem it to be possibly disruptive to safety or security of the entrenched religious and political interests.

It's the classic city vs. wilderness conflict. Why, the guidelines ask, would anyone be called to such a strange thing as a life of prayer? Why would anyone choose untamed wilderness over the the civilized safety of the city?

Just because someone else cannot imagine such a vocation does not preclude its validity. It should, however, disqualify such a person from writing "guidelines" about it.
Pat Hobson

11:35 am, June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As I see this Grace-given vocation; it is Prayer which guides it.; It is Service to those in need which leads it; it is Love which fosters and feeds it.

Everything else appears man-made.

Mary-Paul, Diocesan solitary LA

3:10 pm, June 14, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home