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Trinity Parish is Seattle's Downtown Episcopal Church, located on First Hill, near Seattle's prestigious hospitals, Seattle University, and senior residences.

Benedictine Roots  

For stability means that I must not run away from where
my battles are being fought, that I have to stand still where
the real issues have to be faced. Obedience compels me to
re-enact in my own life that submission of Christ himself,
even though it may lead to suffering and death,
and conversation, openness, means that I must be ready to
pick myself up, and start all over again in a pattern of growth
which will not end until the day of my final dying. And all the time
the journey is based on that Gospel paradox of losing life and finding it.
...[M]y goal is Christ.   —Esther de Waal

Benedictine spirituality is part of our Anglican DNA. It’s the way of the Prayer Book and is embedded in much of the way we function as parish communities.

Our roots also include a bit of the Celtic tradition which existed prior to the Benedictine influence in Britain. That Benedictine influence came in the form of St. Gregory sending St. Augustine on a missionary effort.

The Anglican spirit of open-mindedness, practicality, and comprehensiveness can be seen in the advice Gregory gave Augustine as they later wondered what to do about certain pagan ways.

"The temples of the idols among that people should on no account be destroyed ... it is a good idea to detach them from the service of the devil, and dedicate them to the service of the true God. And since they have a custom of sacrificing many oxen to demons, let some other solemnity be substituted ... so that they may learn to slay their cattle in honor of God and for their own feasting ... If they are allowed some worldly pleasures in this way, they are more likely to find their way to the true inner joys. For it is doubtless impossible to eradicate all errors at one stroke ... just as the man who sets out to climb a high mountain does not advance by leaps and bounds, but goes upward step by step and pace by pace. It is in this way that the Lord revealed himself to the Israelite people."

The same spirit can be seen when Gregory responds to another concern of Augustine. Augustine had written wondering about the diversity of liturgical customs. Gregory responded,

"My brother, you are familiar with the usage of the Roman Church in which you were brought up. But if you have found customs, whether in the Church of Rome or of Gaul or of any other that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make a careful selection of them, and teach the Church of the English whatever you have been able to learn with profit from the various Churches. ... For things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things."

The Benedictine Promise and the Dynamics of the Spiritual Life

The Benedictine Promise has three interdependent concerns: stability, conversation of life, and obedience. You can look at the elements of the Promise and the dynamics among those elements as a way of better understanding your own spiritual life and that of the parish community.

  • Stability: To find God in the current relationships and circumstance of our life.
  • Obedience: To find God in contemplative listening to others, self, creation, and God; to hear and respond.
  • Conversion of Life: To find God in a new life; in the changing relationships and circumstances.

Each element of the Promise is rooted in recollection and has certain internal dynamics. In stability, obedience, and conversion of life there comes an awareness of God's presence. Speaking of it in general usage rather than in relationship to the spiritual life, Edna O'Brien, an Irish writer, said "Recollection ... is not something that I can summon up, it simply comes and I am the servant of it." It is the Spirit praying within us.

The Promise draws us into recollection of aspects of God's presence. Each also carries within it dynamics that can draw us into maturity in Christ.


RecollectionInner Dynamics
StabilityGod in this community, these people, this situationEntering into a deeper acceptance of self and others; turning away from illusions drawing us into boredom, resentment, a desire to escape. Learning about the grumbling of our hearts, about how and why we flee self, others, and God.
ObedienceGod in this "word" to meLiving in the reality of death and resurrection, of losing life to find life. Learning to live in relationship, to listen deeply, to respond.
Conversion of LifeGod in the new community, in the new lifeBeing on the journey that calls us into continuous change, a lifelong process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Learning to find joy in the new life instead of weeping for the life that has passed or never was.

In the parish's life as a community, these elements of the Promise will touch and press upon one another. The static parish might find a new stability out of having listened and responded to its own fears and longings; that is to say out of being obedient and open to a new life.  The excessively anxious-to-please parish might experience a conversion of life if leaders establish the stability of the Prayer Book Pattern (Eucharist, Office, Personal Devotions). Living for a time in the Rule may allow the space for the Spirit to move and be noticed.

The Benedictine Promise and spirit may find expression in parish life in these ways.

  • Stability: Especially seen in Liturgy, prayer, and relationships.
  • Obedience: Seen in our openness to listen and respond to one another, our bishop, and the larger church.
  • Conversion of Life: Out of our life of stability or obedience we see and act on new challenges and opportunities for mission and building up the Body of Christ.

Much of the above is from Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, Copyright Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008. Used by permission.