Fw: A Layperson’s New View of Life at a Mon astery and of Herself
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Lessons Learned Working for a Monastic Community
A Layperson’s New View of Life at a Monastery and of Herself
Written by Ida Williams, Director of Marketing, Sales, and Communications
It is hard to believe that it has been over 2 years since my first day working for the monks, nuns, and companions of New Skete. In my career in sales and marketing, I have represented a family-owned business, a non-profit organization, and local corporate entities, and have worked for two national companies, but never a monastery. I remember my first day at New Skete. I was as nervous as if it were my first day on my first job ever. I reverted to my silly sense of humor and told how I explained my new job to friends as working for God, puppies, and cheesecake. This was the perfect job for me! I love God, I love puppies, and I love cheesecake. I was not wrong in my description of my new job, but I was wrong in my notion of what working for a monastery would be like.
Much of my perception of life at a monastery was formed by television, movies, and hearsay. I had seen plenty of video footage of monks in brown robes chanting as they walked through stone-walled halls; beyond that everything was quiet. Hush. My favorite movies about nuns have the sisters breaking out in song with one another or playing stick ball with school children while dressed in full habits. How many times had I heard about the ruler-wielding nun rapping unruly children on the knuckles? Countless.
The first thing I learned about life at New Skete monastery is while quiet is preferred, it is nearly impossible to achieve. There is a flurry of daily activities that cannot be done in silence. Commands spoken to dogs in training, mixers working in the bakery, printers printing, footsteps, laughter, discussions, and the constant conversation between the barking dogs, croaking frogs, and chirping birds. After my first week I gave up walking on my tiptoes so as to not break the silence. What silence? I observed the brothers and sisters working fully focused, and I wondered—with all this noise, how can they do that? Then I read something written by one of the nuns on how she prays when she bakes. She prays for the farmer who grows the food used for baking, for the delivery driver who delivers the ingredients, and for many others. Then I realized that the silence needed to come from within. I continue to struggle with this; I have
always been easily distracted, but when I feel my mind wandering to what is going on around me, I remind myself of the lesson in the words of that nun.
The next thing I learned was pleasantly surprising. Humor! It runs amok here at New Skete. I love a corny joke, and I have been known to tell a few, but who would have ever thought I would tell corny jokes to monks and nuns. Even better, they told me jokes. Joy and laughter are part of the daily life at New Skete. At times when I am in my office, I hear an outburst of laughter coming from the classroom below, and I want to run down the stairs to find out what is so funny. Humor here comes in all forms: silly humor, sarcastic humor, and humorous stories about early monastery days when the monks were farming to make a living. I grew up on a farm, so I find some of these stories particularly amusing. For the record, in regard to my corny jokes, the brothers have told me not to give up my day job.
How can there bestrife and struggle at a monastery? The balancing act between monastic life and being self-sufficient is very similar to what I experience in my daily life. God, family, work… where are my priorities? How can I keep them straight? I witness the monks and nuns setting their priorities and keeping them. New Skete’s mission statement makes it clear. New Skete is a monastic community of men and men rooted in the tradition of the Christian East. Through prayer, worship, and the work of our hands, we seek to respond to the mystery of God and the Gospel's power to transform human living. Welcoming all, we seek to bridge the old with the new and to witness to the sacredness of all creation. Each day there are distractions and outside influences, but the monks and nuns remain focused on their mission. I see it in their businesses: clients wanting to train their dogs over the holidays, or customers wanting to pick up
cheesecake orders on a Sunday. This is not a reflection on New Skete clients and customers; some are not aware that the businesses are truly run by the monastics. (I should send a note to their marketing and communications director about this. Ha!) Would it be financially beneficial to the monastery to make allowances for these customers? Yes. Would they remain true to their mission? My life needs a mission statement. Each time I type the New Skete mission statement, my focus is drawn to “Through prayer, worship, and the work of our hands, we seek to respond to the mystery of God and the Gospel's power to transform human living.” I look at my struggle to keep God, family, and work in that order, and then I look at that sentence from the New Skete mission statement and realize that if I put God first in my family and first in my work… lesson learned.
Here are a couple other lessons I have learned. My mother asked me the other day if New Skete has taught me to be patient. I told her no, but I have learned to curb my impatience. Changes come when they are meant to, not when I want them to, and changes are happening at New Skete. Finally, I have always taken a high amount of pride in my work. I’m a bit competitive, and I’ve described myself as a “pat on the back junkie.” That attitude doesn’t quite fit working for a monastic community. There is a humble approach to work here at the monastery. It is not a place where titles are held up in high regard. Work is work, and it is what you do. It is what you signed on for. That is not saying that a good job is not acknowledged and praised, but it is different from other jobs. Maybe praise is more sincere because it is not given so freely. Being the marketing director for a small organization means wearing many hats.
Single-person marketing departments typically do. Writing,
research, graphic design, product development, sales, assisting with paperwork and correspondence for the training department, and an occasional photography request—all fall under marketing. Now think of this: writing press releases and copy for people who have written books that have been translated into many languages; designing brochures, catalogs, and materials for artists who have painted icons hanging in national cathedrals; product development for an organization that is revered throughout the world for their dog breeding/training programs and for baking the most scrumptious cheesecakes that are shipped nationwide.
I am humbled.
If you are interested in learning lessons from a monastery, you cannot have my job. It is mine and I have more to learn, but you can volunteer and work beside the monks and nuns.
For information on volunteering contact:
Karen Gladstone, Director of Advancement and Stewardship. 518-677-3928 ext. 214 or karengladstone@...
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