Announcing the Nuns & Nones Research Initiative

OUR COMMUNITY HAS HEARD several key needs THAT are INSPIRing US TO Take next steps:

1. Women Religious are Facing Difficult Choices and Questions about The Future of their Communities and Sacred Spaces

Many inspiring communities of sisters are at a critical juncture in their history, facing challenging questions about the future of their orders and their ministries. Sisters are in the process of transitioning a wide range of institutions and missions they have started—hospitals, schools, community education, emergency shelter, spiritual training programs, affordable housing programs and properties, organizing and advocacy programs (for immigrant rights, against human trafficking, for divestment from fossil fuels), and so much more—and are passing on a wealth of wisdom in the process.

In particular, many of the spaces and properties of women religious are in transition, posing challenges and heart-wrenching questions. No transition of a congregation’s property comes without significant discernment, questions, challenges, and often a wide range of reactions by local community members, as the presence of sisters and their spaces have been such vital elements of community. Sisters are also holding and weighing tender questions about the cost of maintaining aging properties, missions, and their own eldercare.

2. Millennials Are at a Precarious moment and Long for New Forms of Community, Grounded in Spirituality and Service

In response to these longings, and the challenges of sisters, we are asking: how might we join the insights, expertise, and energy of these two populations to create new communities of belonging, rooted in love and equity, and standing for justice?

In listening to the needs of our time, one thing has begun to speak louder; at a moment in which loneliness, isolation, a desire for belonging rooted in place and for spiritual practice held in community are widespread among Millenials (and many more, besides), community itself, is perhaps one of the most valuable and critical missions sisters have to pass on.

Millennials attending Nuns & Nones our gatherings have expressed a deep desire to learn from sisters and carry these seeds of wisdom into new forms in our generation.

3. Together, we have a rare and timely opportunity to help forward sisters’ legacies and missions by partnering to keep sacred spaces in service to community.

Rather than losing convents, motherhouses, and retreat centers to for-profit developers or the wrecking ball, we believe we can work together to simultaneously meet the financial and community needs of sisters, the housing and gathering needs of a younger generation of spirited activists and organizers, and the broader need in society for sacred spaces of sanctuary and community.

We recognize that such spaces are in short supply and of utmost importance. Whatever challenges await in the years and decades ahead, we know that meeting them will require strong communities of spirit and safe spaces to gather, to hold difficult conversations and build bridges across difference, to offer sanctuary for those in need, to organize and envision, and to build beloved community. In an era of increasing technological speed and distraction, we need sacred spaces to invite us out of the trance of ordinary time and into life’s prophetic and contemplative dimensions. In a society that prioritizes profit over people, we need spaces that model the opposite, showing what's possible when we create a culture of care and compassion, and orient ourselves in right relationship with the earth and with each other.

What would it take to ensure that the sacred living and gathering places of sisters continue to serve unmet needs in communities across the country for the next hundred years and beyond? Together, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work across generations—and at a significant scale—to preserve not just these physical spaces, but the histories of the sisters who created, lived in, and tended them, the prayerful energy that has grown there, the ministries that have emerged from these communities, and the essential living legacy of community as a way of life.

Launching a Research Initiative

Born out of our growing appreciation for these shared challenges and possibilities we're launching a research initiative in 2018 to explore these questions together. Our hope is that our research will seed timely and ongoing conversations among Nuns & Nones, leading to hopeful, actionable ideas and collaborations.

Our Landscape of Inquiry

Our research initiative, currently composed of a wide ranging team of volunteers—including women religious, Millennials, advisors, and other relevant experts—has already begun. Our first priority questions are:

  1. What can younger people (across faith traditions), longing for community grounded in spiritual practice and service, learn from and with sisters in this moment—and how?
  2. What creative community and financial models might enable sisters' living and gathering spaces to continue to be of service, stewarded by the next generation, well into the future—in ways that meet their financial needs and forwards their missions and charisms?
  3. What role can younger people, and our communities, play in this transitional moment? 

Some more specific questions within those broad themes include:

  • What would shared spiritual practice look like for an interreligious community?
  • What other structures have sisters created to thoughtfully transition missions or institutions to new leadership in robust ways? What can we learn from them?
  • What are the important financial considerations for sites in transition and what creative financial models could be considered to support transitions? 
  • Which sister sites are in transition, and which have already been sold, converted or “lost”? What can we learn from all of these examples, both for inspiration and caution?
  • What inspiration can be gained from similar examples in other domains—such as the ongoing conversion of hundreds of VA properties, farms—or from ecovillages, tiny home villages, the transition town movements, the new monastic movement, etc.?

What questions are you exploring? Join Us!

What questions are you considering? Women religious, associates and lay community members, intentional community builders and organizers of any generation, we invite your thought partnership in exploring these questions with us.

Please reach out, especially if you have experience or expertise in:

  1. Storytelling of the lives of women religious, especially in moments of transition or in new forms of relationship with lay community members.
  2. Alternative models of community that might inspire congregations of women religious looking for signs, hope, and inspiration in these times.
  3. Alternative financial models that might enable us to think bigger about ways to enable bolder action in this moment.

Learn more about joining or following our research project as it unfolds. And be in touch anytime!