I just got back from a two and a half week cross-country tour that culminated with the annual General Chapter of the Rivendell Community. The final weekend was certainly the highlight of my trip, which mostly consisted of long meetings and worse. (Though at the beginning I did get to see old friends and spend a day in the ocean at Cape May!)
Rivendell is a Christian Community in the Episcopal Church which began in 1997 when two friends and I decided that we wanted a rule of life to hold one another accountable to the intentions of our lives to be prayerful people of God. Truth be told, the other two friends, Virginia+ and Cathy+, had a better idea of what we were up to than I did. I was knew to the whole idea of disciplined daily prayer and was just discovering the liturgy of the Episcopal Church, and was mostly along for the ride. I'm proud to be a founding member of Rivendell, though.
In the Episcopal Church we have Religious Orders and Christian Communities. Orders are like other communities of monks and nuns. They typically live together and hold all their possessions in common, are required to be celibate, and live according to a rule of life and the order's constitution. There are about a dozen orders in the Episcopal Church.
Christian Communities consist of individuals who do not necessarily live together and are not necessarily required to hold their possessions in common. In Rivendell, our members include people who are married and single, lay and ordained, gay and straight, men and women. Some live in community at our two houses in Memphis, Tennessee and in West Missouri, but most of us live in our own homes with families and jobs and all the other trappings - uh, blessings - of this life. We also live according to a rule and constitution which shape our lives of prayer, worship, and community.
The name Rivendell, of course, is from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy in which Rivendell is the "last homely house east of the sea." It's where the elves live and offer hospitality to those who are on the journey. It's where travelers and pilgrims stop for rest and restoration, story telling and good food, wise counsel and strength for the journey. Our goal, then, is to offer prayer and hospitality to those who stop by and for the life of the world.
General Chapter is the annual meeting of the community. Most members live in or around Memphis and West Missouri, but a few of us are further away. General Chapter is when everyone gets together to renew our life together, strengthen our relationships, and reaffirm our central, shared intentions. We spent most of four days catching up with one another, telling stories, laughing A LOT, praying, singing, eating, and enjoying community life. I had to leave before the business meeting on Monday - but I was there for the important stuff.
Religious Communities are counter-cultural. Men and women first headed out into the desert over 500 years ago in response to a Church that had become too top heavy, too involved in itself, too complicit with the power and wealth of the empire. And today, we descendants of those first monks still seek to focus on the heart of Jesus' Gospel and the true vocation of the Body of Christ. We Rivendellians don't eschew church politics - many of us are on vestries, or general convention deputations, and many of us are priests - but we do try to direct the church's attention to those things which are most important - prayer and faithfulness to God, concern for the poor and marginalized, hospitality offered to all. We seek to follow Jesus.
I am so grateful for these companions who call me to faithfulness and continually remind me, in the midst of my failed efforts and misguided attempts, what it is that God requires.