Updated: Mar 4, 2022
Let’s get the official description out of the way first:
The Community of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer (CMMR) is an emerging Christian Community of the Episcopal Church (Title III, Canon 14, Sec. 2). It is a society of Christians, open to all genders, all sexual orientations, and all states of life, in Communion with the See of Canterbury, who voluntarily commit ourselves for life, in obedience to our Rule and Constitution.
Led by the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of our patron, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, we long to participate in the Renewal of the Church as the Body of Christ Redeeming God’s Creation from Sin and Death in all their forms. We practice this primarily through
regular corporate worship and personal prayer, and careful stewardship of the Church’s liturgy and tradition;
stewardship and spiritual care of the totality of Creation, i.e. people, all life, land, sea, and air, all redeemed and being redeemed by Christ the King from the power of sin and death; and
formation of the whole person, our Community, and the Church, called to proclaim, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in word, deed, and our shared life, Christ’s redemption, to the glory of God the Father.
That’s CMMR’s official description. And it says a lot about who we are. It says that though we pray the Office and celebrate the Eucharist daily, submit ourselves to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church, and in many other ways lead a traditional monastic life, we are also open to the working of the Holy Spirit who is leading us into all truth, and have, for example, discerned that CMMR should be open to people of all genders, all states of life (single, celibate, married couples and families), and all orders of ministry as full members.
But what it doesn’t say is that, though we are, in many ways very traditional (taking seriously the Church’s scripture and theological, ascetical, and liturgical tradition, and embracing much of the traditional forms of monastic life), we also lean pretty radical (holding most of our goods in common, privileging prayer and worship over the capitalist work ethic, and trying to take seriously the ancient Sabbath and Jubilee traditions). And we don’t see these as opposed to one another. We understand that radical vision to be a direct result of taking the tradition seriously. We believe that if there is to be a renewal of the Church, will come about, in part, by the reclamation of monastic values in the wider Church where, according to Acts 2 and 4, it seems that they began.
It also doesn’t say that, as we try to learn to live very traditionally monastic lives and listen as best we can for the prompting of the Holy Spirit—as we try to let ourselves be formed in this Acts 2 and 4 life, we hear that Spirit not only in people like Mary of Egypt or John Cassian or Benedict or the Desert Mothers and Fathers or even Vida Scudder or Dorothy Day or Oscar Romero or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or William Stringfellow, but also in W. E. B. DuBoise, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, David Harvey, Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Michael Brooks, Megan Day, and Chapo Trap House. Not, we hope, in a way that would compromise orthodoxy, but in a way that might deepen orthodoxy in the way that the Church’s engagement with Hellenistic philosophy did in the early Church.
As we work hard to start a monastic foundation—the Abbey of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer—and begin to learn to live by the rhythms of monastic prayer, we are learning to hear what DuBoise and Malcolm and Angela Davis and those writers at Jacobin and the folks from Chapo are writing and talking about in the Daily Office when Saint Paul speaks to us about the powers and principalities or when Saint John in Revelation talks about the fall of Babylon. And it’s becoming clear to us how when Evagrius or Cassian write about the “thoughts” that tempt us, these are alive and well and as close to us as the phones in the pockets of our habits.
None of what these ancient witnesses write about are abstract theological notions. They are living realities moving powerfully through the world in which we live. And none of what we study is “secular.” There is no secular. Megan Day and Naomi Klein and Matt Christman are writing theology. They raise theological questions like “What if all the suffering, violence, and oppression in the world isn’t ‘just the way it is,’ or the way it has to be?” Which push us to ask further questions like:
“What if all that suffering, violence, and oppression in the world is in fact an aberration—an intrusion—into God’s Creation, and it CAN be and even now IS being overcome?”
“What if the deepest Truth was a community of non-violent, self-giving LOVE, and what if you could begin to live within the life of that Truth and share that reality right now?”
“What if you could live such a life with a community of Sisters and Brothers who promise to love you and live into that life with you forever?”
My personal inspiration for the Community of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer is too complicated to explain here, but it has roots in childhood fantasies about Shaolin monasteries and Jedi Knights and childhood experiences of a union family and the devastation of union power under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton (and keeps on going no matter which party is in power—which might explain why when I hear “bi-partisan” I get suspicious). It includes explorations of the spiritual power of ascetic and other personal disciplines set loose in the world in movements like those of Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. It began to take a deeper shape in the spiritual rhythms of worship, prayer, work, and shared meals I experienced in seminary, flirted with New Monasticism, and was set on fire by a deep relationship that Sister Debbi and I developed with Holy Cross Monastery.
CMMR was formally founded in 2017 when the founders entered into a shared novitiate to learn to live under their Rule. On September 11, 2018, they took their first vows, and were clothed in the original habit of CMMR. The habit has changed, as has the membership. CMMR is still very much in its infancy. We’ve been living in the Abbey since the week before Trinity Sunday, 2021 and we’re still learning what all of this means.
Most of our time at this point is taken up in worship—praying the Daily Office and celebrating the Eucharist—and doing ministry at Trinity Church and in Michigan City where the Abbey is located. But we’re also deepening our formation, reading, writing, praying, and talking to each other about what we’re learning and how to do all this better.
CMMR has always had a publishing ministry, the most substantial being SuperFlumina: a Journal of Theological Commentary and Crankyness. It’s filled with pictures and poetry and a bit of snark, and it’s intended to be a way for us to give people who don’t live with us a sense of who we are and what we believe God is calling us to do and be. We have also published the Rule of the Community of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, which is currently being revised to account for recent changes (not least of which is beginning to actually live in a monastery) and we publish a monthly Abbey newsletter called Annunciation. We look forward to publishing the CMMR Breviary in the near future and publishing catechetical books, devotional books, books of poetry, and we have a bunch of Zines we’d like to publish. You can find free PDFs of the current Rule and all of our Abbey Newsletters, and can order SuperFlumina (the current issue, back issues, and subscriptions) on our website (cmmredeemer.org).
We have plans that include a retreat ministry at the Abbey, and possibly opening a branch of the Benedictine Service Corps (founded by our friend, Brother James Dowd, OSB at the Benedictine Way in Omaha, Nebraska) at the Abbey. We would also love to lead retreats outside of the Abbey, and we will continue to develop catechetical materials.
CMMR has a a bigger goal, though. CMMR recognizes the world as God’s Beloved Creation and human beings as stewards of it, charged for caring for Creation and loving it and to knowing God’s own life and power revealed in it. We also recognize that it is in Empire’s interest to separate us from that role, and from Creation, and, in that way, even from God, and that less connected we are to each other, to God’s Creation and to God, the more power Empire has over us, so we resist that separation. Inspired in part by Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker Movement’s vision of Agrinomic Universities, and the current agricultural ministry movement, we will start gardening on a couple of lots that Trinity Church owns behind the Abbey. But ultimately the vision for CMMR is to found monastic farming communities as
contrast societies to Empire;
models for a new way of being Church in service to the Church’s renewal;
testing plots for the Kingdom of God.
We are convinced that we are called to all of this (and more) as a way to resist the power of Death and the powers that serve it as they have worked their way into the political, economic, social, and spiritual structures of the world, oppressing humanity throughout history, and never more powerfully than today.
The complaint about politics in the Church is itself profoundly political. Everything is political. Everything is theological. All theology is politics. All politics is theology. And Jesus is the guerilla-general King leading a revolution that is liberating everything and everyone in heaven and earth—a revolution to liberate humanity and Creation from the powers that fight against God, humanity, and all of Creation. These powers include the power of Death itself. The Church is the ragtag army that’s fighting the battle that Saint Paul describes in Ephesians as a “struggle… not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) This fight is one in which we all need liberation even if liberation looks different for different people (the rich, for example, need liberation from a spiritual power like Mammon—which demands everything from us—in a very different way than the exploited working class needs liberation from it, even within the same economic system). The decisive victory in this war has already been won by Christ on the cross, and the standard of the new Kingdom that victory has established has been planted in Creation on Calvary, but now Christ’s army, the Church, is taking the victory of that Kingdom into every corner of Creation.
If any of this makes sense to you, we would be grateful for your prayers. We would also love it if you would check out our website (cmmredeemer.org), read about us, and download all of our free stuff, and then spread the word about us. And financial support is always welcome, either in the form of direct donations or by buying copies of SuperFlumina and other publications. Finally, if you feel so called, we hope that some reading this might want to become Associates or (if you live close enough, Oblates) of CMMR, or might even consider discerning a call to become a Sister or Brother in the Community of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Father Robert Antony Rhodes, CMMR
Michigan City, Indiana