Nuns & Nones Gatherings: An Invitation into Relationship

Since November 2016, we have organized five gatherings of Nuns & Nones in Cambridge (MA), Kalamazoo (MI), Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Burlingame (CA). Read on for a glimpse of what unfolded...

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GATHERING #1—Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge MA

On November 29th and 30th, 2016, a group of Women Religious (Nuns) and religiously unaffiliated Millennials (Nones) gathered in a circle of trust at Harvard Divinity School, to find out the answers to these crucial questions. They gathered to explore at times painful questions of value, of belonging, of collaborative leadership, of the need for authentic community. Members of each group shared their stories, convictions, and deepest questions about how they hoped to live and serve in this challenging moment in history. And they discovered—with a great deal of vulnerability, creativity, curiosity, and an unexpected, abundant wealth of shared humor – that they clearly felt deeply guided by similar values. And – as Sr. Mary Dacey, of the Congregation of St. Joseph, said, “We have so much more in common than anything that could ever keep us apart.”

By the second day, dozens of ideas had emerged for possible collaborations and pilot projects. Attendees from both sides promised to meet those Nuns or Nones near them, to help support the growth of – and marvel at the potential scope and scale of – this new, already growing alliance, pledging also to invite more Sisters and Millennials everywhere to join in this radical, invitational conversation. We learned that future gatherings might have more immediate, actionable impact if we focused on specific geographic locations where relationships could continue.

GATHERING #2—Mercy Center, Burlingame CA

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An entirely new group of Bay Area Nuns and Nones gathered at the Mercy Center in Burlingame in May, 2017. In a nearly identical spirit of discovery, excitement and hope, both communities – again – immediately recognized in one another the same deeply held precepts in common. Imagining next steps was made more tangible possible through the geographic focus of the gathering. Some of these next steps include:

  • Continued meeting and gathering — potlucks, field trips to spaces and organizations, thematic monthly online video calls
  • Use of "sister spaces" for retreats, shared programming, and—down the line—even intentional communities
  • 1:1 mentorship & spiritual direction
  • Storytelling (podcasts, zines, and beyond) together about what's being explored & discovered

Sr. Judy Cannon, a Sister of Mercy, chronicled the gathering here for the Global Sisters Report, reflecting:

"We delight in the fact that we have so much in common, as each person becomes known and appreciated. We are mutually inspired in our close connection."

GATHERING #3—TRANSFORMATIONS SPIRITUAL CENTER, KALAMAZOO MI

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In June, 2017, Millennials and Sisters from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Chicago gathered at the Transformations Spirituality Center. Once again, both sides found that their stereotypes about the other quickly dissolved and mutual admiration abounded. "Why didn't we know you existed?" both sides asked. From this gathering, local groups emerged committed to continuing to meet as "Nuns and Nones" groups in the three cities represented. Reflecting later in an article by the Western Herald, Michelle Gossman, Director of Transformations Spirituality Center, said:

“When they come together, you have this group of people who on the surface might not look like they have a lot in common, but by the end of a few hours there’s just sparks going off. Not only do they find that they have things in common, but they actually like each other. Getting these groups together really powerful ways to get groups together and figure what it is that we really want to see where we live, what kinds of things are important to us, what justice looks like.”

 

GATHERING #4 — Cranaleith spiritual center, Philadelphia, PA

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In October, 2017, our Nuns and Nones gathering took place at the beautiful Cranaleith Spiritual Center in peak fall. Our two days were full of mutual admiration and inspiration, culminating in a co-created ritual by a Sister and a Millennial. In a blog post for the Gray Nuns of the Sacred Heart, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Looby, put in beautifully:

"As we talked, the similarities between sisters, Nuns, and Nones, became so obvious. Both Nuns and Nones: are on the margins or fringes of our traditions; have a track record of challenging institutions in order to promote inclusion and justice; are seeking community that is open to questions and the continuous search for meaning."

 

GATHERING #5 — MErcy conference & retreat center, st. louis, mo

Our December, 2017 gathering in St. Louis, MO was largely defined by personal storytelling. Sharing transformative moments in their lives, both Sisters and Millennials heard much of what makes one another "tick." Conversations deepened around topics of gender and sexuality, racial justice, and privilege. Writing afterward in the National Catholic Reporter, Sr. Mary Ann McGovern, a Sister of Loretto, said about the millennials:

"Like the nuns, they had a big vision of the people of God, the call to serve, the need for regular spiritual practice, the call to hope when despair seems more appropriate."

what's next?

The time is ripe to continue these catalytic conversations. In April, 2018 we will have a “harvesting” gathering, with attendees from several previous gatherings, to capture what we learned, what we have already begun, and listen for what is yearning to happen next.