The Benedictine Volunteer Corps

Prayer, Service, and Community Living Worldwide to Transform Lives

The Saint John's
Benedictine Volunteer Corps
Handbook

We believe that wherever there are Benedictine monasteries and whatever their work is - because this work is done in the context of prayer and community living – the work of God is being done. On this foundation and because of our desire to be of service to our brother monasteries around the world and to provide a rich service opportunity for the graduates of our university we have established The Saint John’s Abbey Benedictine Volunteer Corps.                                                                                            

                                                Abbot John Klassen and the Monks of Saint John’s Abbey

                                                                                                   Collegeville, Minnesota USA

 

 

The purpose of the SJBVC is to provide Saint John’s University alums with 12 months of volunteer service at a Benedictine monastery and an opportunity to participate in the monastic life of that community. The BVC supports the life and the apostolic work of the host monastery.

 

Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville Minnesota is the sponsor of the SJBVC. Saint John’s Abbey provides a country appropriate monthly stipend to the volunteer and round trip transportation. (See below for further expectations of Saint John’s Abbey)

 

The host monastery provides a site director, safe living environment, meaningful work, food, lodging and prayer for the volunteer. The host monastery provides access to local transportation for the volunteer as needed. (See below for further expectations of the host monastery)

 

The volunteer will participate in a two week monastic experience and volunteer orientation program at Saint John’s Abbey. The volunteer is expected to participate in the prayer schedule of the host monastery (at least one prayer service a day). The volunteer is expected to participate in the apostolic work of the host monastery at least 30 hours a week and no more than 40. The volunteer is encouraged to participate in a re-orientation retreat in mid-July after his time of service. (See below for further expectations of the volunteer)

 

Community Life

Life in Community is central to Benedictine Monasticism. Benedict’s first Chapter in The Rule makes a distinction between monks who live alone, monks described as the kind who do whatever they want, monks who wander around from monastery to monastery never putting down roots, and those who live in a community under a rule and an Abbot. The Saint concludes this chapter with a strong admonition to not even speak about any but the monks who live in a community.

 

One of the unique features of The Saint John’s Benedictine Volunteer Corps is this association with monks and living in or proximate to a monastery during the year of service. Benedictine Volunteers are expected to take advantage of this relationship through prayer, meals and as many other aspects of the community life that The Abbot or The Prior of his host monastery allows. Experience has shown us that a close relationship with the monks of the host monastery is part of a rich year as a Benedictine Volunteer.

 

Prayer and Work

Prayer and Work are pillars of Benedictine Life. Saint Benedict tells us:  Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brothers should have specified periods for work and prayer. RB Chapter 48

 

In most cases the length of service for a Benedictine Volunteer is 12 months. A Benedictine volunteer is expected to work no less than 30 hours per week and no more than 40 hours per week during the time of service. Time in prayer is considered part of the calculation. The expectation to participate in one of the prayer services of the monastic community each day is a non-negotiable part of the commitment of a Benedictine volunteer.

 

It is important that Benedictine Volunteers have ample time to learn about and experience the countries where they serve and have time to renew themselves during the year of service. The corps considers that 3 weeks away from the monastery in a 12 month commitment is an appropriate length of time for vacation, discovery and renewal. When making vacation plans or being away for overnights the site director should be consulted

 

Living Simply

Benedictines do not take a vow of poverty. The Rule, however, is clear on living simply, with what has been supplied and in moderate relationship to things. A simple life style is an important witness to restraint in the communities we serve. Benedictine Volunteers are expected to observe simplicity in their life style.

 

The host monastery provides food, lodging, laundry facilities, access to local transportation, and other basic needs.

 

Saint John’s Abbey provides a country appropriate monthly stipend (in the US - $300.00) that is considered adequate to cover personal needs, entertainment and vacation. Benedictine Volunteers are discouraged from relying on additional resources from family to supplement their monthly stipend. An exception may be made in the case of travel for enrichment and vacation.

 

Health Wellness and Safety

Benedictine Spirituality puts a high premium on self-awareness and personal responsibility in the pursuit of a mature and whole Christian life. It is in this context that we approach the issues of health, wellness and safety. 

 

There is a certain level of risk that is part of service as a Benedictine Volunteer. These risks include disease, accident, personal boundary violations, depression, loneliness and isolation. Living at, working in and being associated with a Benedictine monastery during the time of service mitigates against many issues of safety and security. Still, volunteers are their own best agent in assuring their own well-being. The orientation retreat prior to service addresses these topics and provides the volunteers with the requisite personal tools and awarenesses to prevent and react to conditions that affect their health, wellness, and safety.

Alcohol and Drugs

Saint Benedict counsels his followers to observe moderation in all things. Although a short one – he devotes a chapter in his Rule On the measure of drink Chapter 40 “We read that monks should not drink wine at all, but since the monks of our day cannot be convinced of this, let us agree to drink moderately, and not to point of excess – for wine makes even wise men go astray.

 

Mindful of ways that addictions have devastated lives and in an effort to promote right relationships in community it is important that Benedictine Volunteers exhibit appropriate use of alcohol. Experience has taught us that when safety and relationships have been compromised - alcohol or drug use has been a part of the equation. The Benedictine Volunteer Corps does not tolerate use of illicit or controlled substances in accordance with federal state, local and international law.

 

Social Media and Internet Technology

The Rule of Saint Benedict has good wisdom to guide us regarding communication – including the explosion of immediate and global communication capability over the past decade. In Chapter 6 entitled Restraint of Speech Saint Benedict writes “There are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence. For all the more reason then, should evil speech be curbed”

 

Benedictine Volunteers are asked to be respectful in what they write and pictures that they post and view on websites, blogs, twitter accounts etc. Especially regarding communications regarding the monks they live with and work for and the people they serve – sensitivity needs to be shown and privacy needs to be respected. Equally important is a need to be aware of the addictive nature of social media and internet use. The hours that can be consumed surfing the internet and chatting with friends and family can quickly detract from engagement with the people proximate to them who they have agreed to serve.

 

Termination

The subtext in The Rule of Saint Benedict of Chapter 23 on Excommunication for Faults has a strong tone of regret at having to even consider the topic. The next 7 chapters of The Rule address issues related to excommunication and the correction of mistakes – again indicating Benedict’s uneasiness with it and his desire to get it right.

 

A man’s year in service as a Benedictine Volunteer is one of growth, risk taking, opportunity, vision, and formation. Mistakes will be made. For our purposes we too will be slow to terminate the relationship with our men. However, in cases of legal infractions we have no choice but to respect the civil laws of the host communities. In cases of repeated violation of the mores of the host community we may need to consider termination.

 

We acknowledge that a volunteer may for personal or family reasons need to leave the program and when a volunteer needs to end his time of service early we assist him in doing that privately and with sensitivity to his needs, the program, and the host monastery. 

 

Quitting

The cost for sending a Benedictine Volunteer for a year of service is close to $15,000 a year. Inclusive of this is administration expenses, travel, food, lodging and stipend. The Saint John’s monastic community and donors to The Benedictine Volunteer Corps are eager to support the BVC and expect the volunteers to take advantage of the full year.

 

 

Addendum

 

Health Insurance and related costs

Benedictine Volunteers are required to have health insurance. Saint John’s Abbey will assist in paying for inoculations for those whose country of service require it of them – up to $500.00.

 

Problem solving, grievance etc.

Benedictine Volunteers are encouraged to bring issues related to their community life, and work to the site director(s) of the host monastery. For exceptionally difficult or sensitive issues they are encouraged to contact the director of The BVC.

 

Retreat/Re-entry

Benedictine Volunteers are expected to participate in a 2 week retreat that begins the day after graduation in May. A re-entry retreat is scheduled for mid-July after the time of service.

 

Communication with the home office

Volunteers are expected to be quick in their response to requests from The BVC staff for communication. This includes monthly check-ins and requests from the home office for pictures, articles, reflections etc.

 

The Site Director(s)

The site directors at Benedictine Volunteer Corps sites have a two-fold responsibility. They are responsible for assigning and monitoring the work of the volunteer and assuring that the volunteer is welcomed to and participating in the community and prayer life of the monastery. It is ideal if one person can fulfill these two tasks.