Nuns & Nones at the monastery

The Benedictine community gathers in conversation with Nuns & Nones community

“I live a commitment to God, in a spirit of justice, and want to hold myself accountable to my community across a lifetime.” The statement could have been made by any one of the Benedictine sisters gathered for a panel conversation with six young guests on July 8.

But it wasn’t a sister. It was Brittany Koteles, one of the six core team members of Nuns & Nones, an “intergenerational, spiritual community dedicated to care, contemplation, and courageous action in service of life and liberation,” according to their website. Brittany, along with team members Alan Webb, Diana Marin, Adam Horowitz, Sarah Jane Bradley and Katie Gordon, spent two weeks at the sisters’ Glinodo Center, the first time they had gathered on site since the COVID pandemic began in March 2020. They gathered from across the country: Milwaukee, WI, Bay Area, CA, Albuquerque, NM, Boston, MA, to dream, plan, learn, and enjoy time together.

In opening the evening conversation with the Erie Benedictines, Katie Gordon, one of those who co-founded N&Ns in 2016, began, “There is such a longing for spirituality and community in my generation and as we sought ways to create community, we saw the richness of spirit in the monastic and religious traditions. It seemed like a natural connection.”

In the course of almost five years, the community has grown in self-identity and self-understanding while at the same time expanding its reach. The six millennials who came to Erie are its thinkers, leaders, and visionaries. “We see ourselves as bridge-builders between sisters and today’s youth-led justice movements,” said Katie, who currently lives in Erie with the Benedictine Sisters. “Young people realize that we need the spirituality for the long haul that sisters have. We share their passion for justice and recognize the work they do and look for ways we can collaborate with them in creating a more just world.”

As they spoke about their relationships with sisters, common themes appeared: longing for prayer and spiritual community, work for justice, ministry and social action, intergenerational friendship. Sarah said for her it is about “diverting from the train” on which many of her peers find themselves. Rather than a well-groomed life, she seeks “a community of people I can journey with, people committed to questions, social justice, spirituality.”

When the floor was opened for questions, the sisters were curious not only about relationships with sisters, but also about how the young people live community (a couple in intentional community, one in a 20-person cooperative, but all also connected in a virtual community) and to what works they are committed (solidarity economy, climate crisis movements, Black Lives Matter, regenerative land and indigenous-led landback movements).

Of particular interest was a question about original religious traditions, where the “spark” that started each of their spiritual journeys came from. Four grew up in the Catholic tradition, one in the Jewish tradition, and one basically without religious tradition.

The analogy of a roller coaster ride to describe the religious journey seemed apt. The institution of the Catholic church did not feel like home and even for those that maintain a connection, it was still an in and out journey. They have found spiritual community outside the institution, which is limiting in its structure. For Diana, in response to the limitations, “rather than fall away, they made me ask why am I so drawn to it.”

They have found themselves “bound themselves to God/Spirit” as a way to connect with the religious impulse. Earth-based spirituality is also significant to their spiritual wholeness. It was a tree, Alan said, “that wacked me over the head and said, ‘Wake up!’”

What is next? The future will unfold in the seeking, in the commitment to community, and in trusting the spirit. “You know it’s spirit when it comes through the side door,” Adam said. And this particular pairing of millennials and sisters could certainly be considered spirit entering through the side door. But now that spirit is in, there is no going back. “We are committed to life that centers spirit, that responds to the signs of the time,” Adam concluded.

Interesting addendum: A new interview of Sister Joan Chittister in the recent issue of LCWR Occasional Papers (you can read it and subscribe here) that focuses on the future of religious life includes this question and answer:

Question: You have said that the centers of religious communities should be places of "reflection where the Gospel and the globe are brought together for all to see." Would you still place a high value on our communities being such centers?

Sister Joan's answer: Bringing the Gospel and the globe together is what I see many young people today doing. I think it is essential that we stay close to young people and not underestimate their impact. The Nuns & Nones movement is a good example. If you listen to young people, they will tell you what they are looking for. Then, you have to ask yourself: ls our community imaging what young people want? Are we safe places to be? Are we these centers of reflection?

Diana, Adam, Alan, Brittany, Sarah, and Katie
Diana, Adam, Alan, Brittany, Sarah, and Katie
Sister Jean Wolbert and Brittany begin the gathering with music
Sister Jean Wolbert and Brittany begin the gathering with music
Sarah and Sister Carolyn
Sarah and Sister Carolyn
Sister Ann and Alan
Sister Ann and Alan
Sister Tina and Diana
Sister Tina and Diana
Sister Dianne and Adam
Sister Dianne and Adam
Katie and Sisters Lucia and Marlene
Katie and Sisters Lucia and Marlene