The monks of Mepkin Abbey offer an opportunity for men to have a longer experience of monastic life, or to take a sabbatical within the monastery. Participants in this program live in the monastic community for a period of thirty days. At the request of the participant, this period may be renewed following an evaluation by the monks. Monastic Guests are provided a room with private bath within the monastic community itself, and must participate in all the activities and obligations of the monks — from Vigils at 3:20 AM to Compline at 7:30 PM. They are assigned work just as the monks are.
Advance reservations with the Monastic Guest Master are required, along with a certificate of medical insurance and some form of recommendation from a pastor, employer, or colleague. There is no fee required since work compensates for the cost of room and board. Usually the number of Monastic Guests is limited to three at any one time.
Mepkin Abbey is a home away from home. After participating 18 years in the Monastic Guest Program, I slide into the routine like a hand into a glove. It is an extension of my life in Connecticut. In that sense, Mepkin is a monastery without walls.
I will be 80 years in August 2018 and, by grace, enjoy good health, spiritually, mentally and physically. Mepkin has helped quiet my soul, to live in the Present Moment, to live in the Presence of God, to age gracefully. While I have made great progress in this area, I have miles to go. And I look forward to the journey. To become more compassionate. To “listen with the ear of my heart” (St Benedict). To appreciate more that the Earth “is charged with the grandeur of God”(GM Hopkins).
The MG Program provides this by requiring MGs to immerse themselves in the prayer and work of the community. We pray the Hours seven times a day. Attend Mass daily. And work four hours a day six days a week. While this may seem like a rigid schedule, there is plenty of time for meditation, reading and exercise.
Over the years, the Hours have had a powerful impact on me. Especially chanting the Psalms.The individual monks and guests become one in the chant. In holy communion.
Often, a single phrase in a Psalm sung many times before can melt the heart to the point of tears. Not tears of sorrow, but of cleansing water.
After a few visits, a person gets to know the monks, the Mepkin family. With all the wonder and warts of our own families. Each one is on the journey of life sharing the road with us. Some feel the physical effects of aging. Some get testy when they are tired. Some break the silence once in a while. Just like folks outside the cloister. That said, they all guide by example. And seem to have infinite patience with occasional visitors.
The beauty of the place is astonishing. The Cooper River with all the life on the surface and in her womb. The Live Oak and Spanish Moss. The birds. The gardens. The church and library. The silence.
People are advised to get physical exams once a year. Especially after a certain age. The soul should be examined and refreshed as well. I do it twice a year. At Mepkin, my home away from home. I hope to return in the Fall.
Mepkin Abbey Monastic Guest Program was an opportunity for me to experience Christian monasticism close-up, something I’ve wanted to do for sometime. As a contemplative from a different tradition than Catholicism, I had a strong interest in exploring the forms and the devotion I understood to be an integral part of Trappist life.
The brothers welcomed me with open arms and a grace that could only come from hearts truly opened to God and their fellow brothers and sisters. I lived, worked and prayed right alongside the brothers. I felt a part of the community. I was included wholeheartedly into their daily lives, and I was offered the opportunity to include them in my daily practice of prayer, meditation and work.
The gift of this program is the holistic nature of the experience. It is rare in our busy lives that we are offered the opportunity to bring our prayer and contemplative practice into our workaday world. At Mepkin, ideally, all the aspects of the daily routine -prayer, work, meditation, personal time – are of a single piece, a seamless blending of a heart turned to the transcendent reality of love and grace. In a sense, I felt that God was living and working alongside me at Mepkin.
It is a rigorous schedule, one better driven by faith than just curiosity. It isn’t a vacation. But there was the support of the brothers and the resource of their vast experience to help me through it.
I feel that I got out of the program what I put into it. I was dedicated. I left with a wonderful feeling of peace, contentment with myself and others, and a closeness to God that I haven’t felt in a long time.
Monastic Guest (MG) experience of Carl Rosenberg at Mepkin Abbey, Moncks Corner, SC
My time spent as a monastic guest at Mepkin Abbey was one of the best months of my life. I hope to join them again soon. I retired September 1, 2017 after over 38 years of military service. I had a four day retreat at Mepkin the end of August and found a draw to the beauty and grace of the place. Praying the hours in community helped deepen my prayer. So, after my retreat I made application to live with the brothers for a month as a monastic guest.
When brother Gerard Jonas gave me my orientation I felt euphoric. He explained the silence kept in the cloistered area and took me behind the serpentine wall. I was overcome with joy, serenity and contentment. I had a sense of what Psalm 84 expresses, “one day in God’s courts is better than a thousand elsewhere”. Part of one of the prayers I prayed early on in my stay was “Finally, as my heart slows a little after the work of the years, may it expand in Love for You and all people. May it rest secure and grateful in Your loving Heart until I am lost in You, completely and forever.”1
I feel like I got to play on the edge of a forested wilderness but in one month’s time I never got so deep that I was “lost in Christ” completely nor forever. I was on the edge and it was wonderful. After returning home for more than a week, now, I know I could get lost in the world again. However, the glimpse of being lost in Christ still inspires me in contemplative prayer and in recognition of Jesus in my day to day mundane activities.
Work in the monastic way is meant to be done prayerfully. For Cistercians silence is a goal for prayer or the “ora et labora,” work and prayer. Work at the mushroom farm is practiced with minimal talking. The silent atmosphere does foster a sense of God’s presence in the work.
Work is minimized on Sundays and Desert days to allow for rest and an opportunity to go deeper in prayer. My stay included participation with the community in one of their monthly desert days. Its title comes from the practice of the desert fathers and mothers. Mepkin’s beauty is not like a desert but it certainly can be a setting to have a wilderness experience. My visions during the “desert” prayer were definitely forested and I had a sense that I was close to the garden from which Adam and Eve were exiled. Prayer is so personal and the images or symbols that I have from those desert prayers are very difficult to put into words – written or spoken. The depth and wonder of my prayer I credit to the communing I experienced through ora et labora in the Mepkin community. The brothers do not communicate in the worldly sense but they do commune in a divine life. They are human. They are also examples of living Paul’s exhortation “…to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1, NRSV) Over the years I have had education and professional certifications that allow me to ethically add titles and letters before and after my name. My month at Mepkin gave me my favorite letters, Carl Rosenberg, MG.
1 Prayer by Sr. Moya Hanlen, fdsnc (Australia) www.ministryofthearts.org
Br. Anthony-Maria continued and told a few stories of guests and retreatants who had gotten in touch with the monastery to tell of how seemingly insignificant acts on his or someone else’s part had come to deeply affect their lives while so many miles away from the cloistered walls of Mepkin. And the more I think about it, the more I agree with the many guests who have been affected by this place and these people, and I’ve also come to agree with Br. Anthony’s awe. On the one hand, one’s acts in the monastery are menial and mundane, these are only ordinary people. Yet on the other hand, those same trivial acts can contain the deepest spiritual significance: a haircut, time in church, a conversation had, or a note shared. And I think that’s the point for these Trappists, if I may speak a few words on their behalf.
I normally wouldn’t write about my time here if it were to be read by others. That’s because what happens here isn’t so much based on the externalities of the life – though they surely are important – as to what goes on inside, which is much more important. This may sound all flowery and poetic, or, heck, even overly “spiritual,” which isn’t what I’m going for. But it’s true. The divine often does speak through the senses, but the subtleties of the work lie in one’s heart, which is far more crucial.
There are two things about Mepkin that, in a very gradual and organic fashion, spoke to my heart.
The first is about failure. The first week or so, I often woke up in sweats about the whole transition, because I thought everything little thing either intensely mattered in the grand scheme of my place the universe – or was totally meaningless. This back and forth wavering between these poles gave rise to a lot of anxiety, and I came to recognize that it probably involved lots of ego. The ego either wants things perfect or nothing to do with anything at all. During this time it was difficult to cut myself some slack and find a balance.
God brought me to a place of complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion and depression and then unexpectedly opened the door for me to retire after twenty years of running customer sales and service call centers. I understood Him to be telling me to take a sabbatical and get rested in preparation for my next mission, which He will reveal in due time. One of my first thoughts was to take time for a retreat with Cathie Powell, who founded a contemplative ministry in Greenville, SC, called The Anchorage. She was leading a retreat at Mepkin Abbey in March, but I had a schedule conflict. However, I took time to explore the Mepkin Abbey website and learned about their monastic guest program, a thirty day program for men to live, worship, and work like one of the monks. I felt God drawing me to participate, thinking that perhaps He was going to use that time to reveal my next assignment. My first question to Father Guerric: Is a non-Roman Catholic person permitted to participate in the monastic guest program? He told me that the program was open even to Presbyterians like me!
I hope that everyone is enjoying the onset of winter over there. The weather in Sydney is fantastic and warm. Here is the reflection on my time at Mepkin Abbey we spoke of my writing.
I arrived at Mepkin abbey in the beginning of September. The weather was warm and clear and the days were starting to get shorter, giving every prayer at compline a unique character as the sun set over river and cast its last burning rays through the high church windows while the monks sang to God, asking for his protection through the night.
Read more about John Asher’s beautiful experience as a monastic guest at Mepkin Abbey
Whilden Nettles, a 27 year old man from Pawley’s Island, SC, came as a monastic guest. He had just finished his job as a probation officer. He expressed the following about how he hoped to use this experience at Mepkin Abbey. “I would like to use my time at Mepkin Abbey to not think about the past or the future, but, instead to commune with God, and focus myself for the journey ahead. I want to experience a life where instead of living for my own gratification, I can fully focus on serving God and others, and hope to take that with me when I leave.”
Read about Whilden’s experience as a monastic guest at Mepkin Abbey
For further information or to make reservations, contact the Monastic Guest Master, Father Guerric, using the email contact form, or by phone or mail: (843) 761 – 8509 1098 Mepkin Abbey Rd Moncks Corner, SC 29461