Religious communities have, since medieval times, attracted not only those called to share in their lives as members under vows, but also those who wish to share in their fellowship of prayer while living out their vocations in some other setting. Today these are called “Associates,” or sometimes “Oblates,” and their role is valuable both for the individuals and the communities with which they are linked.
Associates of the Community of St. Mary are Christian men and women who undertake a Rule of Life under the direction of the Community. They share in the support and fellowship of the sisters, and of one another, while living dedicated and disciplined lives in the world. (The Community of St. Mary today has three autonomous Provinces; an Associate belongs to the whole Community, but has a principal tie with one Province.) Each Eastern Province Associate has a relationship with a particular sister who keeps in touch on a regular basis.
Who may become an Associate?
Any baptized, practicing Christian who feels called to become a part of our extended family and share in our life and prayer is welcome to inquire about becoming an Associate. Not all of our Associates are Episcopalians. Usually an inquirer has visited the Convent or knows some of our Associates. When you’re ready, you will be received and given a silver Community medal by a priest in a simple ceremony (at the Convent when possible, or by a Priest Associate in a parish elsewhere).
What is the Associate’s Rule? A sister will help form your Rule of life, and we ask that you take six months to “try it out” before being received. We’ll give you an outline that suggests how you may organize your time commitments and frequency of participation in the Eucharist and Divine Office; a rule of private prayer; abstinence and fasting; and charity and witness. Individual vocations and circumstances vary so widely in today’s world that a “one size fits all” Rule is no longer appropriate. We do ask Associates to pray specifically for the Community, as we do for them, and, because the Divine Office is central to our way of life, to undertake some form of daily Office. We also expect an Associate to keep in touch with us, and to seek to bring others to know the Community.
What do Associates and the Community do for one another? First and foremost is the bond of mutual prayer. Associates are remembered regularly in the Community’s intercessions, and we ask your prayers for us. Associates are welcome to visit the Convent as they are able and to share in our prayer and family life. We offer opportunities for retreats, spiritual counsel, and correspondence. All Associates receive St. Mary’s Messenger. Associates’ service to the Community varies widely. Some are able to do volunteer work for the Community, some will help to arrange a sister’s visit to their parishes and/or provide hospitality, and most make a regular or occasional monetary offering as they are able. These offerings, as well as legacies over the years, help to support our life of prayer and service.
Is an Oblate the Same Thing? Essentially, yes, but some communities, including the Southern Province of the Community of St. Mary, have Oblates with a more demanding Rule and a more formal commitment than other Associates. How do I learn more? The best way to understand our spirit and vocation and to discern whether you are called to share it is to visit the Convent in Greenwich. E-mail the Mother Superior, call or write. Please tell a little about yourself and why you are interested in becoming an Associate.
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