Hi God…You Want Us to do What? Building the Haven Community

Written by Marta S. Rivera Monclova, M.Div., Ph.D.

What do you do when God calls you to something that doesn’t exist yet? Build it! Well, easier said than done. None of Haven’s members set out to found something new, but each of us—Marta (an English Ph.D., candidate for Holy Orders, and expert in grief), Gregory (an ex-computer programmer and jaded cradle Episcopalian), and Sean (a composer, artist, and former monk) – has been drawn into a life of dedicated service to God in community. As we each spent time in established religious orders, we found that the particular pattern of life we sought didn’t exist in the Church yet. By grace, we also found one another and discovered that what we could not do alone, we could do together. So we have embraced the joyous risk of sharing conversion of life together in love and trust. This conversion has led us in surprising directions and uncovered unexpected gifts. As we each grow into our individual call from God, the community grows stronger; and the strength of the community supports each member in our healing, growth, and ministry.

Our vision is to empower one another “to seek Christ with our whole selves and to serve our neighbors with all our gifts.” We take the Victorian Anglican sisterhoods, the Beguines, and Carmelite friars as our models; all pioneers who also sought to build dedicated lives in the context of their time. We also have as models the many present-day religious orders in the Episcopal Church. Many of these are primarily “contemplative” communities, whose work is internal and often includes a ministry of hospitality. Haven is a primarily “active” community, meaning that we balance our pattern of prayer and household life with significant ministry commitments outside the house—these currently include administrative work at Christ Church Cathedral, chaplaincy at A Place of Grace food pantry, pastoral and liturgical assistance at Seabury Life Community, and parish commitments at Grace Church in Hartford and St. James’s Church in West Hartford.

As we grow in our ability to offer formation, community, and support to people who are called to this life of service, we will be able to undertake more and more ministries of support in the Church. Our goal is not so much to start new ministries as to establish a new (or rediscover an old) model for dedicated ministers in the Church and the world: a corps of people who can support, work, advise, and show up wherever their gifts are needed. We are building a community that does this work as the first priority in their lives, within Haven as a body of support. We seek to build an endowment so that we have the flexibility to increase work in areas which have deep and pressing needs but are underfunded or unfunded.

One of our core principles is that dedication to God is the most important thing, and our work, our practices, and our community life all flow from that dedication and must be measured against it. This means that we strive to welcome people with widely varying experiences and needs, recognizing that our experiences, needs, and identities—for example, ethnicity, disability, neurotype, and gender—must be fully and actively welcomed into the community. One of the blessings of community is the ability to grow deeply in understanding and mutual support, valuing belonging over uniformity and charity over rule. This life is marked by the challenges that define the life-long call to surrender all that is within ourselves to the healing, life-giving touch of God’s grace revealed in relationships shared among people with whom one would not have otherwise chosen to live. It is a life ordered around the promise to abide in relationship with those same people regardless of whatever blessings or hardships variously arise within the fabric of that shared space. This is not easy! But it bears much spiritual fruit.

Haven itself is not yet a recognized religious order—in order to be recognized by the Episcopal Church orders must have six professed members, which, for a residential community that grows slowly and organically, might take a decade or more. The Anglican tradition has always maintained a “grassroots” approach to new communities, allowing them to take root in their own time. Haven was recognized by ECCT in 2023 as an Intentional Episcopal Community, which allows us to participate in the life and governance of our diocese as we grow.

One path that members of Haven may take is to make the traditional vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Our name for this vowed expression of Haven is the Order of the Body of Christ—a namesake with triple resonance: Jesus’ earthly body, the Eucharist, and the Church. Other members of Haven may choose to have different goals or a different relationship with the vows. At the center of Haven is lifting up the gifts of those we live with and those we meet, that we communicate in bonds of charity and mutual love, and that our lives are dedicated to God.  

Please pray with and for us! On May 30 (Corpus Christi), Marta and Gregory will be clothed as novices, thereby establishing the Order of the Body of Christ and renewing their commitment to Haven. The service will be at 6:00pm at Grace Episcopal Church, 55 New Park Ave., Hartford and is open to the public. RSVP for in person attendance or get the streaming link at havenreligious.org/rsvp.

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