Let me begin with some of my experience at the Franciscan Spiritual Center.
Last December I moved to Portland two weeks before the season’s first ice storm. Born and raised in Southern California, seasonal weather was something I'd visited but never actually lived in. I’ll admit that in my many years of travel as a lawyer and humanitarian worker, I’d accumulated my fair share of umbrellas and borrowed parkas after arriving someplace to belatedly realize I’d failed to pack for actual weather.
As the newish director of the Franciscan Spiritual Center, I’ve inherited a role in a mature ministry. With it comes both an established community and the potential for something new.
I’m still in the process of naming what the core nature is of the Franciscan Center. To be sure, it is a place that holds space in this world for spiritual deepening. And while staff and patrons come from many lineages and faith traditions, the Franciscan charism is at play as a binding element.
Recently I met with the leader of another established spiritual ministry. You might say what we were doing was “networking,” but a more accurate name would be “divine gifting.” Early on in the conversation I realized I'd discovered an ally - a sister in Christ who’d been listening to and obediently following this call for a longer time than I. She is my elder, but not my competitor. As we talked and dreamed together, she pronounced a name over what the role of the Executive Director of the Franciscan Center was: “You are midwifing what comes next.”
There are times, I think, when you name something privately in your heart but you don’t yet dare utter it aloud. I had done that.
And then, the audacity of the elder bursts through and pronounces blessing and invitation. In the act of blessing something is activated. Wishful thinking gives way to a more robust obedience.
How do I understand the role of the midwife?
A midwife does not create life. God does. A midwife does not hold and nurture new life in the womb. A mother does. A midwife does not protect and care for the new child. Parents do. But the midwife plays a critical role in supporting and cooperating in the birthing process. We hold and organize the space. We stay calm and we encourage. We come prepared and alert for risks that the other may not yet appreciate. We are keenly aware of Who actually is the life giver. The role is important, but also mostly invisible. For the midwife, witnessing birth is the reward.
The posture of midwife is the way I’ve named the task of spiritual director and it’s a way I claim the role of Executive Director. It is the way of coming alongside a larger community and accompanying it into its next iteration of ministry.
The Franciscan Spiritual Center was formed 26 years ago. It was (and still is) a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St Francis of Philadelphia. Several Franciscan sisters have shaped (and still do shape) its key ministries. At its core is both modesty and a profound and subtle power. We cannot yet know what its future will be. And, as is true of many orders of religious women in North America and Europe, there is not another generation of religious women who are joining the ranks and coming up behind this generation. So, we face an unknown future.
It is the yet unknown path to sustainability that strikes the greatest chord of concern in me. But, if I am completely honest, it also is the primary reason why I took this job and moved here. I fully expect to have a front row seat for what new life the Holy Spirit delivers.
I do not believe the future of the Franciscan Center will turn on the vision of one leader, her novel business plans, or her muscling that vision into reality. The future life of Franciscan ministry will turn on the Holy Spirit. And we get to participate. My experience and my faith have taught me that there is much we can do to prepare for the next iteration of this ministry. In prayer, in obedience, and in community, we can craft an expectant and prepared posture to receive what comes next.
Join us in co-creating that kind of open-hearted community. Thank you!