A Modest Proposal

In the western world, as a consequence of a decline in the number of professed religious over the past few decades, many convents and priories have closed and there is no longer a guarantee of the ready availability of a Dominican community that can support groups of Dominican-minded laity. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult for aspiring lay members of our Order to find a Fraternity within manageable reach; and this is particularly true of countries where the Catholic Church is rather sparsely represented. In Spain or Italy, Poland and Slovakia, it may be reasonably easy to make contact with a friar or nun as a first step towards entering the laity; in the Low Countries, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, much less so. And this is to say nothing of the elderly, the disabled or the chronically sick, who are debarred from attending a Fraternity even in the event that they track one down.

The Province of England (somewhat unfortunately named, since it includes Scotland) offers a partial solution in the Lone Lay Dominican Fraternity, whose members are scattered around England and Scotland and who are held together, rather precariously, by a newsletter, sent every two months by email or snail mail (the latter at considerable expense, since printing and postal charges soon mount up). Although officially recognised as a Fraternity, the LLDs, as they are affectionately called, cannot offer formation – new members join because they can no longer attend meetings, and must have gone through the customary process of formation and made their promises before being accepted. This is the down side. The newsletter, edited, printed and distributed by a remarkable young woman of 91, Margaret Grant, is a delight. In addition to Margaret’s personal news – and she always has something interesting or amusing to tell – there are letters from members, some asking for prayers, some announcing the arrival of a new grandchild or a move to a new home or attendance at a Dominican gathering at national or international level; and there is always a homily by a Dominican preacher. Margaret often includes photographs sent in by members, and the last page offers a joke and a bit of uplift in the form of a quotation from Scripture or from a distinguished writer. (There is, too, a bulletin from Italy: I am not a member of the LLDs, as I have at least three Fraternities within easy distance here in North Italy, and belong to one of them; but it is good to be in touch with my fellow-Britons.) It may seem – it is – an exceedingly modest effort, but it works, and offers a useful starting point for further initiatives along the same lines.

It seems long past time that we devised new methods of formation so that other groups like the LLDs may be formed, including younger people who do not have easy access to a Dominican community.  The Internet is an invaluable tool, and one which almost anyone under the age of 50 uses daily; and Skype or Face Time make it possible to “meet” participants without having to travel. My impression, travelling around much of Europe in the course of my work for the Order, has been that formation is not always given the care it demands, even in areas where candidates for the OP laity may meet physically without undue effort. Too often we scratch the surface of Dominican spirituality, and too often formation is handed over as a job lot to the religious assistant, usually a friar, who with the best will in the world cannot know what it is like to be a lay woman or man (any more than we know what it is like to be a religious!).

It has to be admitted that for many lay Dominicans, formation really doesn’t amount to much more than attending an hour’s lesson once a month with a finally professed lay person and/or the local religious assistant. I am sure there are exceptions, but I have yet to find a Fraternity where candidates’ seriousness and the level of their preparation were verified before they were admitted to profession. Nor do all religious assistants treat the laity in a manner I would regard as appropriate: I recall with mingled affection, respect and fury an elderly, highly intelligent friar who treated “his” Fraternity like five-year-olds (“Laudare, benedicere, praedicare means To praise, to bless, to…?” – pause for the group to respond in chorus: “Preach”). What many Provinces seem not to know is that there is an excellent, detailed formation programme, in English, at European level; if adopted across the Continent, this would greatly facilitate lay formators in their work. Of course it means translating the text into the various languages; but surely, if we care about being Dominicans, we can make that effort? Most if not all Provinces have a number of members competent to do the work of translation at an acceptable level. I can personally think of suitable lay Dominicans for Hungarian, Slovakian, Bulgarian as well as French, Spanish, Portuguese, German…. It is not necessary to have a translation of professional standard, but the text must be (a) comprehensible and (b) circulated to all OP laity in the specific language group. Sadly, much excellent material already available either remains with Provincial Councils or, if circulated, is ignored by the Fraternities.

Once a group has been launched, the members can be offered, as in the case of the English LLDs, a regular newsletter – ideally by email, or here on our website – and a chance to talk together via one of the excellent computer-managed organs such as the already-mentioned Skype. Ideally, an annual meeting in the flesh would ensure that everyone felt the benefit of being part of the Fraternity in question – and as Dominicans are famed for their celebratory get-togethers, a party would almost certainly ensue! Provincial Council members could also undertake to visit or otherwise contact members of any such Fraternity, individually or, if feasible, as a group, and to make their existence known throughout the Province.

An initiative of this kind might also be a way of attracting younger people – many, when they are over the age limit for the Youth Movement, simply disappear. Once they have settled into a job and perhaps started a family, travelling may not be as easy an option as in the years of what used to be called “single blessedness” (I have been single far too long to find it an exclusively blessed state!). But the under forties are likely to use the social networks and to surf the net on a regular basis; they would be comfortable with a system of the kind I am suggesting, though their parents’ generation might hesitate.

Our Order was founded for itinerant preaching, and one form of itinerancy today is the use of computer technology. Please let me know what you think. Suggestions and offers of help will be most welcome.

 

 

 

A Modest Proposalhttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/l-ahhar_tlieta_6_dsc_0024x.jpghttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/l-ahhar_tlieta_6_dsc_0024x-150x150.jpgRuth Anne HendersonEnglishSliderStudy of the laity,
In the western world, as a consequence of a decline in the number of professed religious over the past few decades, many convents and priories have closed and there is no longer a guarantee of the ready availability of a Dominican community that can support groups of Dominican-minded laity....
In the western world, as a consequence of a decline in the number of professed religious over the past few decades, many convents and priories have closed and there is no longer a guarantee of the ready availability of a Dominican community that can support groups of Dominican-minded laity. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult for aspiring lay members of our Order to find a Fraternity within manageable reach; and this is particularly true of countries where the Catholic Church is rather sparsely represented. In Spain or Italy, Poland and Slovakia, it may be reasonably easy to make contact with a friar or nun as a first step towards entering the laity; in the Low Countries, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, much less so. And this is to say nothing of the elderly, the disabled or the chronically sick, who are debarred from attending a Fraternity even in the event that they track one down. The Province of England (somewhat unfortunately named, since it includes Scotland) offers a partial solution in the Lone Lay Dominican Fraternity, whose members are scattered around England and Scotland and who are held together, rather precariously, by a newsletter, sent every two months by email or snail mail (the latter at considerable expense, since printing and postal charges soon mount up). Although officially recognised as a Fraternity, the LLDs, as they are affectionately called, cannot offer formation – new members join because they can no longer attend meetings, and must have gone through the customary process of formation and made their promises before being accepted. This is the down side. The newsletter, edited, printed and distributed by a remarkable young woman of 91, Margaret Grant, is a delight. In addition to Margaret’s personal news – and she always has something interesting or amusing to tell – there are letters from members, some asking for prayers, some announcing the arrival of a new grandchild or a move to a new home or attendance at a Dominican gathering at national or international level; and there is always a homily by a Dominican preacher. Margaret often includes photographs sent in by members, and the last page offers a joke and a bit of uplift in the form of a quotation from Scripture or from a distinguished writer. (There is, too, a bulletin from Italy: I am not a member of the LLDs, as I have at least three Fraternities within easy distance here in North Italy, and belong to one of them; but it is good to be in touch with my fellow-Britons.) It may seem – it is – an exceedingly modest effort, but it works, and offers a useful starting point for further initiatives along the same lines. It seems long past time that we devised new methods of formation so that other groups like the LLDs may be formed, including younger people who do not have easy access to a Dominican community.  The Internet is an invaluable tool, and one which almost anyone under the age of 50 uses daily; and Skype or Face Time make it possible to “meet” participants without having to travel. My impression, travelling around much of Europe in the course of my work for the Order, has been that formation is not always given the care it demands, even in areas where candidates for the OP laity may meet physically without undue effort. Too often we scratch the surface of Dominican spirituality, and too often formation is handed over as a job lot to the religious assistant, usually a friar, who with the best will in the world cannot know what it is like to be a lay woman or man (any more than we know what it is like to be a religious!). It has to be admitted that for many lay Dominicans, formation really doesn’t amount to much more than attending an hour’s lesson once a month with a finally professed lay person and/or the local religious assistant. I am sure there are exceptions, but I have yet to find a Fraternity where candidates’ seriousness and the level of their preparation were verified before they were admitted to profession. Nor do all religious assistants treat the laity in a manner I would regard as appropriate: I recall with mingled affection, respect and fury an elderly, highly intelligent friar who treated “his” Fraternity like five-year-olds (“Laudare, benedicere, praedicare means To praise, to bless, to…?” – pause for the group to respond in chorus: “Preach”). What many Provinces seem not to know is that there is an excellent, detailed formation programme, in English, at European level; if adopted across the Continent, this would greatly facilitate lay formators in their work. Of course it means translating the text into the various languages; but surely, if we care about being Dominicans, we can make that effort? Most if not all Provinces have a number of members competent to do the work of translation at an acceptable level. I can personally think of suitable lay Dominicans for Hungarian, Slovakian, Bulgarian as well as French, Spanish, Portuguese, German…. It is not necessary to have a translation of professional standard, but the text must be (a) comprehensible and (b) circulated to all OP laity in the specific language group. Sadly, much excellent material already available either remains with Provincial Councils or, if circulated, is ignored by the Fraternities. Once a group has been launched, the members can be offered, as in the case of the English LLDs, a regular newsletter – ideally by email, or here on our website – and a chance to talk together via one of the excellent computer-managed organs such as the already-mentioned Skype. Ideally, an annual meeting in the flesh would ensure that everyone felt the benefit of being part of the Fraternity in question – and as Dominicans are famed for their celebratory get-togethers, a party would almost certainly ensue! Provincial Council members could also undertake to visit or otherwise contact members of any such Fraternity, individually or, if feasible, as a group, and to make their existence known throughout the Province. An initiative of this kind might also be a way of attracting younger people – many, when they are over the age limit for the Youth Movement, simply disappear. Once they have settled into a job and perhaps started a family, travelling may not be as easy an option as in the years of what used to be called “single blessedness” (I have been single far too long to find it an exclusively blessed state!). But the under forties are likely to use the social networks and to surf the net on a regular basis; they would be comfortable with a system of the kind I am suggesting, though their parents’ generation might hesitate. Our Order was founded for itinerant preaching, and one form of itinerancy today is the use of computer technology. Please let me know what you think. Suggestions and offers of help will be most welcome.      

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7 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal”

  1. Dear Ruth,
    In the thread of what you say, I can tell you that I quite agree with you. Today we have to continue to go out to preach and one of our borders is the digital world. However, I do not know why, there is a reluctance to seek means for the formation of Lay Preachers to be dignified, efficient and effective. There is an illogical and absurd analogy to be broken: lay, precarious formation. Now, as you rightly say, there are also well-formed lay people who strive to communicate and share their knowledge with brothers and sisters of the fraternity and with outsiders. What could we do? Following your argument, I think that in Europe we have an excellent training material (compiled or prepared). Our European Council could contact the Provincial Training Councilors and perhaps create, through this website, shared training. The work and, therefore, the formation of Lay Dominicans is more than ever called to cooperation.

    Public CommentUserDear Ruth, In the thread of what you say, I can tell you that I quite agree with you. Today we have to continue to go out to preach and one of our borders is the digital world. However, I do not know why, there is a reluctance to seek means for the formation of Lay Preachers to be dignified, efficient and effective. There is an illogical and absurd analogy to be broken: lay, precarious formation. Now, as you rightly say, there are also well-formed lay people who strive to communicate and share their knowledge with brothers and sisters of the fraternity and with outsiders. What could we do? Following your argument, I think that in Europe we have an excellent training material (compiled or prepared). Our European Council could contact the Provincial Training Councilors and perhaps create, through this website, shared training. The work and, therefore, the formation of Lay Dominicans is more than ever called to cooperation.
  2. Hello, you mention “What many Provinces seem not to know is that there is an excellent, detailed formation programme, in English, at European level”. Where might this be found? Is it available online?

    Public CommentUserHello, you mention "What many Provinces seem not to know is that there is an excellent, detailed formation programme, in English, at European level". Where might this be found? Is it available online?
    1. It was circulated in 2014 to all Provincial and Vicarial Presidents in Europe. Your Provincial Council should have a copy; if not, please inform the current European Council.

      Public CommentUserIt was circulated in 2014 to all Provincial and Vicarial Presidents in Europe. Your Provincial Council should have a copy; if not, please inform the current European Council.
    2. For G Filz: go on the ECLDF website (www.ecldf.net) and click on “documents”. At Nymber 7 you will find the Formation report. I hope it’s useful.

      Public CommentUserFor G Filz: go on the ECLDF website (www.ecldf.net) and click on "documents". At Nymber 7 you will find the Formation report. I hope it's useful.
  3. “A Modest Proposal is a wonderful idea. Since my world consists mostly of our Lay Dominican “cloistered brothers,” (“cloistered brothers” are the Lay Dominicans in MCI Norfolk, USA) http://bethanyhouseministry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/awordofhope_final.18064237.pdf and former “cloistered brothers” who are now regular, outside, Lay Dominicans, they encounter problems similar to England’s Lay Dominicans.

    Let me explain. The usual path to a vocation as a Lay Dominican is one similar to the one I took. I had an average life consisting of spouse, family, work, and my whole life comfortably fit in that arrangement. And when I felt the call to become a Lay Dominican, it was fairly easy to fit another component into that equation. I had reached a time in my life where my spouse and children were settled comfortably into their own worlds. I had been married 30 years or so. My children were adults and had moved out of the nest. Work also was not something I needed to worry about. Everything was so settled that it was quiet–quiet enough to hear God’s whisper.

    However, our “cloistered brothers” do not fit into that category. They live their “cloistered life.” They enter the Order while they’re living life in the “cloister.” If or when they leave, they, as Lay Dominicans are hit with LIFE! We had a life before we became Lay Dominicans.

    First they have to find living quarters. Then they need a job. In order to join a chapter they need a car. What if they meet someone they might want to marry; other demands are placed on them. Imagine adding children to the mix.

    IOW, their vocational path is the opposite of the usual one. The average one is life happens and we then are called. It is the opposite for our “cloistered brothers.” They are called and then LIFE hits them. It is extremely difficult for them to juggle all the balls.

    Our religious assistant suggests phone contact. Face time and Skype are excellent but not all phones have that capability. But the point is to keep regular communication constant because community is important. We try to reach out, not only by phone, but by internet newsletter, and snail mail.

    This Modest Proposal is welcome. I for one will promote the idea on this side of the pond.

    And that’s exactly the point in “A Modest Proposal.” Modern methods of communication are needed not only to preach, but for another important pillar–community.

    Public CommentUser"A Modest Proposal is a wonderful idea. Since my world consists mostly of our Lay Dominican "cloistered brothers," ("cloistered brothers" are the Lay Dominicans in MCI Norfolk, USA) http://bethanyhouseministry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/awordofhope_final.18064237.pdf and former "cloistered brothers" who are now regular, outside, Lay Dominicans, they encounter problems similar to England's Lay Dominicans. Let me explain. The usual path to a vocation as a Lay Dominican is one similar to the one I took. I had an average life consisting of spouse, family, work, and my whole life comfortably fit in that arrangement. And when I felt the call to become a Lay Dominican, it was fairly easy to fit another component into that equation. I had reached a time in my life where my spouse and children were settled comfortably into their own worlds. I had been married 30 years or so. My children were adults and had moved out of the nest. Work also was not something I needed to worry about. Everything was so settled that it was quiet--quiet enough to hear God's whisper. However, our "cloistered brothers" do not fit into that category. They live their "cloistered life." They enter the Order while they're living life in the "cloister." If or when they leave, they, as Lay Dominicans are hit with LIFE! We had a life before we became Lay Dominicans. First they have to find living quarters. Then they need a job. In order to join a chapter they need a car. What if they meet someone they might want to marry; other demands are placed on them. Imagine adding children to the mix. IOW, their vocational path is the opposite of the usual one. The average one is life happens and we then are called. It is the opposite for our "cloistered brothers." They are called and then LIFE hits them. It is extremely difficult for them to juggle all the balls. Our religious assistant suggests phone contact. Face time and Skype are excellent but not all phones have that capability. But the point is to keep regular communication constant because community is important. We try to reach out, not only by phone, but by internet newsletter, and snail mail. This Modest Proposal is welcome. I for one will promote the idea on this side of the pond. And that's exactly the point in "A Modest Proposal." Modern methods of communication are needed not only to preach, but for another important pillar--community.
    1. Thank you, Faith Flaherty, for this – I am familiar with the Norfolk, Massachusetts chapter and am sure that a group based on the general principles of the Lone Lay Dominicans could be the answer to the problem of those who have left the “cloister”.

      Public CommentUserThank you, Faith Flaherty, for this - I am familiar with the Norfolk, Massachusetts chapter and am sure that a group based on the general principles of the Lone Lay Dominicans could be the answer to the problem of those who have left the "cloister".

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