Photo:  Steve Portteus, right, introduced the program speaker, the Reverend Ed Van Wijk of the Trinity United Methodist Church of Kentland, at the club's Monday noon luncheon meeting.  

Monday's program speaker, Rev. Ed Van Wijk, who is also a Rotary Club member, reported on a spiritual retreat that he attended in April at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Ky.  It is customary for the Methodist Church to encourage its Pastors to occasionally take time for spiritual renewal.  Since the Abbey of Gethsemani is not all that distant and was highly recommended by one of Pastor Ed's colleagues, he registered to attend an April Monday through Friday retreat.  

The Abbey of Gethsemani which is affiliated with the Cistercians Order of Strict Observance, was founded in 1848.  It's the oldest monastery in the United States.  There the Trappist monks follow the Rule of Saint Benedict (c.480-547) that requires the monks live a contemplative life of faithful prayer and work. 

The renowned Abbey of Gethsemani monk, Father Thomas Merton, stated that the monastic milieu offers a place apart " to entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God --- to pray for your own discovery."  

The daily schedule is quite rigid for the monks (approx. 48) and the retreatants.  It begins at 3:15 am with prayer, singing and worship and continues until 8:00 am when the monks go to work until noon.  After lunch it's more worship and prayer until it's time for supper.  After supper there's more religious formality until the monks retire for the evening after 7:30 pm.  Guest and retreatants may participate in the ceremonies if they want, and that's what Rev. Van Wijk did.  

From 8:00 am to 12:00 pm the monks work to support themselves and the abbey.  There is a herd of Holstein cows that the monks tend to.  The milk is used to produce hand-made Trappist cheeses that are sold at an on site store and also by mail order. In addition to the cheeses, the monks also make fruitcakes and fudges, some of which are flavored with genuine Kentucky Bourbon. There are also art objects that the monks have hand crafted that are sold at the store. 

Guests are always welcome at the abbey.  Hospitality maintains a prominence in living the monastic tradition.  As outlined in Saint Benedict's Rules for Monasteries, the guest represents Christ and has a claim on the welcome and care of the community.  There are weekday retreats and weekend retreats that one can register for.  There are no set fees for lodging or meals.  Only a donation that the guest can afford is all that  is expected.  

Reverend Van Wijk  felt that the four days he spent at the abbey were very beneficial --- a chance for spiritual renewal.  Wandering the abbey's 2000 acres of woodland and fields afforded time for reflexion and prayer.  While the monks were at work, Pastor Van Wijk spent time in the abbey's library reading Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and learning about the Trappist Order of monks.  


Brandt Stum 

Kentland Rotary Club