Thursday, September 3, 2015

Friary handed over to Hope House Ministries

We had an emotional day today. We said farewell to Little Portion in a big liturgical service--over 80 folks came, our friends and supporters and those from Hope House. It was wonderful to see so many people, and we have firm intentions of staying in touch.

Sermon for Handing-over of Little Portion Friary
September 3, 2015
Br. Clark Berge, SSF

Good morning! We are at the moment of truth: the “handing over.” Today, Little Portion becomes home to Hope House Academy. I’d like to start us off this morning by singing together “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” as a round. [sing together]

The text for this song is from the Gospel chosen for today, and it captures the Christian vision shared by the friars and the De Montfort fathers. We are not to worry, to trust in God and to love as God loves us. It’s a tall order. But underlying it all is the knowledge that God provides for us in our comings and goings, in all that we do. This moment of coming together is unique. It is the perfect example of a liminal moment. We all occupy Little Portion Friary. So the proclamation of the Good News has to be shared by us all. The Occupy Movement has come to Old Post Road, Mount Sinai. So every time I raise my hand [like this] everybody say: “God provides.”

God provides us what we need. 86 years ago God provided the brothers with a home on Long Island through the generosity of the Sims family, the family of Brother Stephen. Through their hard work the brothers transformed a small cabin into a welcoming place of formation, hospitality and ministry to many people longing for God’s love. [God provides]

Father Joseph led a group of men determined to follow the radical example of St. Francis, to reignite the Franciscan life in the Episcopal Church after the Society of the Atonement’s pioneering efforts resulted in them becoming Roman Catholic. Fr. Joseph’s vision for the Order of the Poor Brethren of St. Francis of Assisi was about prayer, liturgy, teaching and proclamation among much more besides. Fr. Joseph’s work on the Anglican Missal was historic and claimed the Catholic heritage of the Episcopal Church, enriching the spirituality of many people. It was formative for our entire denomination. There is much that can be said about the conventual life of the brothers in those early days. They lived by their lights, full of faith and determination. Men came to join them as brothers. We are blessed still to have Br. Dunstan who lived here with Father Joseph, and Dominic and others who came and were part of that life. [God provides]

The brothers prayed, they shared their lives and reached out. In the 1960’s we joined up with, and became the American Province of The Society of St. Francis, the Franciscan movement grew in numbers and impact throughout the world. Yet it was a constant scramble to find ways to support the life financially. At the height of the Order’s membership in the United States, at the time of the Vietnam War, there were over 40 men. In the early 70’s somebody had the bright idea to bake bread. They applied to Trinity Church Wall Street and ovens were purchased, and all the other things needed for the bakery. [God provides]

In the early 80’s the brothers experimented with a less formal family life, moving out of these buildings to the guest houses of the Poor Clares of Reparation next door, down the hill. They became active in recovery ministry, and they reached out to parishes and institutions all over Long Island and beyond. Mary Haven took over these buildings for a school then administrative offices for their expanding work. A young priest with a vision for nurturing and supporting young men struggling in their lives started Hope House Ministries in the friar’s guest house, Wayside House. [God provides]

By 1991 the brothers were ready to come back up the hill. They re-imagined the use of the buildings, creating unprecedented access and welcome to guests in a Franciscan ministry of hospitality. In 1997, after a retreat in Missouri, I came home and we built the labyrinth. When Newsday published a full page photo of the labyrinth on the cover of Part II with an accompanying article, literally hundreds of people started to come to Little Portion. We were astounded by the spiritual hunger and need for loving community life. When we decided to have a labyrinth walk, potluck dinner and Taize prayer service on the night of the monthly full moon. We started having days of reflection: days of conversation, prayer, exploration, with wholesome food and a nourishing taste of the Sacrament for everybody. The friary bulged with people, we danced and we sang and we ate in the desert of modern consumerist culture of Long Island. People came home to God, to themselves, to their right minds here at Little Portion Friary [God provides].

Brothers fanned out from Little Portion. We taught all over the country, we served in different institutions: seminaries, universities, and schools; clinics, hospitals, and parishes. We opened our doors to migrant day laborers, gave love and money to them while the County Executive threatened to take away our tax exempt status for aiding and abetting illegal aliens and called us the lunatic religious fringe in a memorable statement to Newsday.

For these and all God’s many, many blessings, for the incredible life and ministry of the Society of St. Francis that continues to this day in this country and around the world, we give God most heartfelt thanks. [God provides]

But the world changes, as have our circumstances. What have we learned from the past 86 years? I want to mention three things out of 5000 that I could mention today.

First, nothing is forever. Impermanence is part of human life. Things change. This is not a curse or a setback. It is reality. [God provides]

Secondly our core values of love and compassion are transmutable. The friars are leaving these buildings (we’re staying on in the cemetery), but lives will continue be touched and transformed by God’s grace. The work of Hope House Ministries is exciting, it is necessary. If ever the notion that buildings have a soul made sense it is in the ongoing use of these buildings for the healing of lives, for the consecration of this property as a place of refuge and renewal. [God provides]

To say good-bye, to entrust the vision for this little piece of land and these buildings to others is absolutely necessary for our life and ministry as a community of Franciscans. The challenge before us is to embrace with courage whatever comes next. This “yes” to the future is the third great learning our sojourn on Long Island can teach us. As our brother Derek prepares himself for the next stage of his journey in Christ, we do too. It is not a failure or a defeat that we are acknowledging here today. It is the moment of Francis, stripped down naked in the public square before the astonished gaze of his family and neighbors. He handed his property to his father, saying “I no longer have a father here on earth, but only my Father Who art in heaven.” Nobody ever said God failed Francis. God’s power was demonstrated in the extraordinary letting go of Francis; Francis was empowered to give to the world a new vision of religious life through his trust. What better way do we have to help the church go deeper into the mystery of God’s love than to leap into those loving arms ourselves? How much more eloquently can we preach the joys of poverty and faith to a materialistic, power crazy world than to let it go ourselves? The friars are not becoming homeless, but we are moving on to God-knows-what, and countless numbers of young men seeking a new start in life, a place of compassion and challenge, have found a new home [God provides].

So it is with all of you, and all those who love us and care for us throughout the world (and who are remembering us in their prayers at this moment), we seek the deepest consolation of our faith and recall with sober joy the words that Jesus speaks to us and all who live and minister in the crossroads of the world: “. . . be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.”

Yes, God does indeed provide. In Godly ways, with holy timing. Blessed be God.

These are the men who will be living at Hope House Academy at Little Portion Friary in the future, after necessary repairs and upgrades. Fr. Frank says they will be doing the work! They are singing "We never walk alone" if I remember right.

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