Who Is a Member of the Community of Aidan and Hilda in the USA?
Someone who joined [our] Facebook group recently asked, “Does this make me a member of the Community of Aidan and Hilda?” Here is the full answer to that question.
In the early Celtic Christian communities, there were different levels of commitment. These formed concentric circles, physically and spiritually. You chose a level that matched your place on life’s journey and your commitment to Christ. At the center was a hearth which gave warmth to everyone. You drew as close as you wished. Those with the strongest commitment kept the fire burning. In CA&H, we mirror those circles as best we can, given that we are called to be a dispersed community. We have three levels of commitment, which I will explain in turn. They are expressed in different vows through which we progress when ready.
Why three levels of vows? Originally, because Fr. Jack Stapleton, who founded CA&H in USA (simultaneously with CA&H UK) was a 3rd-order Franciscan and used to three levels of vows! Now, though, we are very intentional about these three stages. They meet the Community’s needs. First, the short answer: No, joining the pilgrim band on our Facebook page makes you a Friend of the Community, but not a vowed Member. You are most welcome to walk with us at your own speed. The door is always open for you to join, when you are ready.
Explorers are the entry level members. Like the name says, Explorers are exploring whether this Community is a good ‘fit’ for them. This stage, which lasts at least a year, brings you straight to two core features of our life:First, the Soulfriend, Anamcara (Irish), or Periglour (Welsh).
Our whole Way of Life is based on the three ancient monastic vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. We interpret them as Simplicity (of lifestyle), Purity (in all relationships), and “Obedience” (. . . well, what?). We do not have an Abbot figure whom we obey. Instead, we hold ourselves open and accountable to a Soulfriend, whom we each choose. Just as the Soulfriend was central to the early Celtic saints, so is ours. In fact, the one thing required of a new Explorer is that they have a Soulfriend in place when they make their promises.Second, the Aidan Way. We have 10 simple ‘Waymarks’ which each of us adapts to our life, and continuously revises. They frame each day we live, every way we relate to others, all our mission. They are simple enough for the novice, and demanding enough for the long-term member. They are clear enough to give us unity, and flexible enough to be a comfortable ‘fit’ for each one of us. The Explorer stage lasts a year, or more, as needed. The main tasks of this stage are to compose and start to live into your Way, and to deepen the relationship with your Soulfriend.
Pilgrims. So, you have lived under Explorer vows for a year or more. You are feeling fairly at ease with your Way of Life. Opening up to your Soulfriend is getting more natural. You are now ready (in the USA) to make your Pilgrim promises. As a Pilgrim, you open up more to the Community. You attend your regional fellowship (in person if near enough, or if not then hopefully online). You come to a retreat once a year, if you can.
Here you come up against the reason we have the Pilgrim stage in the USA: the sheer size of the country makes it more difficult to be active in this dispersed Community, especially if you live 900 miles from your nearest fellow-member – as I did when I first moved to Minnesota! For some, it is at the Pilgrim stage they realize that this Community is not a good ‘fit’ for them. Others, though, manage just fine as a ‘hermit,’ a sort of C21 Desert Father or Mother. As a Pilgrim, too, you start to put your talents to work for our shared life. Several Pilgrims have important ministries in the Community.
By the way, our 7th Waymark calls us to heal the wounded, and our 9th is to work for unity, especially in the Body of Christ. Both lead us to accept as Members all who truly want to follow Christ and the Aidan Way, in accountability to a soulfriend, regardless of theology, church background, race, gender, or orientation. On the other hand we do not take a stand on either side of the issues that currently divide the church.
Voyagers. There is a fire that ever burns at the heart of the Church of Christ. It is the life of the monks and nuns who live under vows and in community. “Time and again,” wrote the great church historian Adolf von Harnack, “it is the monasteries that have saved the church.” We believe that such a time is coming again, and that those of us who are recapturing the monastic way and adapting it to the lifestyle of this century are part of the rekindling of that fire.
In the Community of Aidan and Hilda, it is the Voyagers who are the main keepers of that flame, committed before God to walk and commend the Aidan Way, and to support each other as we do. The Voyagers are full members, and are the heart of the Community. You need the agreement of your soul friend and the Guardians before you take this step. New Voyagers are given the Community cross; in USA, new Explorers and Pilgrims are also given a simple Celtic cross.
This is not to say that Explorers and Pilgrims may not take on important roles in the Community. They can, and do. It is the Voyagers, though, who commit to support the Community and each other for the long term. Here, adapted slightly, is what the UK CA&H Handbook has to say about the vows of a Voyager:
“A First Voyager commits (health permitting) to:
- Live out the Ten Elements (Waymarks) of the Way of Life.
- Make a Personal Application of the Way of Life with a Soul Friend who is approved by the Community.
- Maintain a daily rhythm of prayer, using the Community’s prayer patterns as resource.
- Participate, when possible, in Community Retreats.
- Pray for other members through the Prayer Diary and/or in other ways.
- Meet up with Members in their region or sphere of interest as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
- Wear, carry or display their Community cross in a thoughtful way.
- Review their personal Way of Life each year in silence and with their Soul Friend. – Renew their vows annually on or near the 17th November (St. Hilda’s Day).
- Send in their annual dues and report form to the Guardian(s).”
Some of us knew more or less when we first heard about the Community that we had found our ‘tribe,’ and we would make it a lifelong commitment. Others take years of thought, prayer, and stopping-and-starting to reach that point. Still others ‘Explore’ for a time, then move on. However the Spirit leads you, we hope you journey well, and that many of you choose to journey with us.
If you are ready to join, or would like more information, please contact Paul Martin firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul John Martin, Explorer Guide (CA&H USA)