[Episcopal News Service] The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City is preparing a yearlong program for young Christian adults of different denominations to live pray, study and work together – a program the cathedral says is the first of its kind undertaken by an Episcopal congregation.
One year from now, the Community at the Crossing will bring together 12 American lay Christians between 20 and 30 years old, from Anglican, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, to form an ecumenical community intended to enrich the spiritual life of each member individually and the cathedral community as a whole.
“Ideally, when they leave here, they would be able to have a solid sort of understanding of how Christians do theology, a grasp of the social sciences in some general sort of way, and an intense experience of community life, and in particular, living together in unity despite differences,” said the Very Rev. Patrick Malloy, who became acting dean of the cathedral in June.
The goal is for residents to be transformed by the yearlong experience and then “carry all of that back into the workplace as sort of an ethical voice and a voice for unity in the midst of a divided culture, and increasingly post-Christian culture,” Malloy told Episcopal News Service.
Both Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis have endorsed the program and will deliver sermons by video at a Sept. 8 service at the cathedral celebrating its launch, which will be livestreamed. The community is now in its final design phase; the first cohort will start in September 2023, with the application period opening in January.
The residents will be students or young professionals who take a year off “to be interrupted by God.” The cathedral will renovate one floor of a building on its close, where they will share a common life, with five themes: study, service to the poor, prayer, community life and the unity of Christians.
Two days a week, residents will study theological and sociological topics – such as reconciliation, ecumenism, and Christian witness in environmentalism and the business world – with lecturers from across the world and across denominational traditions.
“Most of the people coming here will probably not really have an academic theological foundation. A great deal of the ecumenical dialogue that happens, I would think, would emerge out of them studying [various traditions] together,” Malloy told ENS. “Theology, sociology, anthropology, pastoral care, the sorts of things you would get in a good seminary program, but not for the purpose of them doing research, but in order for them to have a common vocabulary.”
Another two days each week will be spent serving in groups of two or three at different charities across New York City, such as homeless shelters, addiction treatment centers or assisting at hospital chaplaincies.
Additionally, each day will be structured according to a rule of life centered on prayer: daily personal prayer, one weekly half-day of silence and meditation, daily communal prayer at the cathedral, Sunday celebrations and different types of evening prayer.
There will also be a group – the number has not been determined yet – of community members who do not share in the full residential program, but integrate parts of it into their normal working lives in New York, meeting regularly with the residents.
The Community at the Crossing is modeled after two Christian lay communities in Europe: the Community of St. Anselm and the Chemin Neuf Community. Chemin Neuf is a worldwide network of communities started in France in 1973, run by Roman Catholic priests as a lay religious order open to other denominations.
Inspired by – and with the help of – Chemin Neuf, Welby founded the Community of St. Anselm in 2015. Sixteen young Christians from around the world come to live at Lambeth Palace in London for a year, with the same focus on study, prayer, service and ecumenical dialogue that St. John the Divine’s community intends to emulate. St. Anselm also includes off-site participants. Over 100 people have participated in the Community of St. Anselm so far.
“I started the Community of St. Anselm to give young people a profound experience of prayer, service and living in community. It has been a transformative experience for those who’ve taken part – and for those of us praying, living and working alongside the community,” Welby has said.
Malloy first came across Chemin Neuf in 1987 in Paris, where he witnessed a vibrant community with beautiful liturgy and an inspiring mission that revived a church that had been closed. To see a thriving Christian community in such a thoroughly secularized country left an impression on him.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is how Christianity is going to survive,’” Malloy said. “‘Places like this are going to save Christianity.’ And I tucked it in the back of my mind: We need something like this in the United States.”
The idea came back six years ago when Malloy joined the staff of St. John the Divine.
“I thought, if there’s any place in the United States where something like this can happen, it’s at St. John the Divine,” he said.
By then, the Community of St. Anselm was established at Lambeth Palace, offering a model for Malloy, who “began to really dig into the program and propose to the dean and the trustees that we investigate whether this is something that could happen here at the cathedral,” he said.
Malloy went to visit the Community of St. Anselm and met with Welby, “and at the end of that experience, he told me that he wanted to do everything he could possibly do to make something like that happen here at St. John the Divine.”
Welby had enlisted members of Chemin Neuf to help run the Community of St. Anselm and told Malloy he didn’t think a similar program in New York could succeed without them. Before Malloy even left Lambeth Palace, he had emails from Chemin Neuf superiors offering to help start something similar at the cathedral.
After four years of work between Welby, Chemin Neuf and Malloy – including the interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic – the program is now coming to fruition. On Sept. 8, three members of Chemin Neuf – a Roman Catholic priest and nun and an Anglican nun – and a nondenominational Protestant student at Union Theological Seminary will arrive at the cathedral to begin the yearlong process of meeting with clergy and the local community to build relationships and start conversations around peace, inclusiveness, and justice in society, and recruiting residents.
The cost to run the Community at the Crossing program will be about $450,000 annually, according to cathedral spokesperson Julie Falvo. The cathedral, she said, has received seed funding through donations and will continue to seek more from individuals, foundations and corporations. Participants will not receive stipends and will be asked to pay what they can, perhaps inviting family and friends, their employers or their parishes to donate.
However, no one who is invited to join will be turned away for lack of funds, Malloy said, adding that he’s eager to see who applies.
“The more we get people to know about this and care about it, the better,” he said.
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.