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.
“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which we are all apart of one another and all involved in one another.”
from his final talk
From the moment we began to drive down the long tree lined drive, under the canopy of the majestic Live Oaks with hanging Spanish moss; I felt transported. During my first few days, I spent considerable time walking the beautiful grounds of Mepkin Abbey and I was struck by the brilliant diversity of the natural surroundings. Never had I seen such colorful dragonflies, lizards, frogs, grasshoppers and birds. They appeared to have been dipped in paint or was it some elaborate ruse with a wayward coloring set? Everywhere I walked, they seemed to sweep me along my intended path. The confidence in which the squirrels and birds went about their daily chores, indicated an ease and calm within the abbey itself; these were creatures unaccustomed to harried work and comfortable with the many visitors drawn down that same treed lane. At night we were serenaded by crickets and cicadas; while during early morning jaunts to vigils, the owls echoed our footsteps along graveled paths, beneath starlit skies. It all seemed surreal and other worldly at times.
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.
In January 2012, 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 from February 3 to March 5, 2011. 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