Thursday, March 15, 2018

New Wineskins

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC Federation Temporary Professed

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“I can’t have my sisters going to Washington in old wineskins, now can I?!” These were the words our sister in community, Annie Klapheke exclaimed as she used her sewing skills to reconfigure the t-shirts some of our sisters donated to our cause. As people who know me are already aware, I took part in the Catholic Day of Action on the Hill in Washington, DC on February 27th along with two other SCs, Tracy Kemme and Jean Miller and one of our Associate Members, Deb Rose-Milavec. It has been well chronicled, which was the whole point of being there-to draw attention to and escalate the pressure on the speaker and members of congress to enact a clean Dream Act (You can watch it here, and read about it here). The expiration of DACA has since come and gone without our demands being met, but as in all social movements, every little action contributes to achieving the final goal
S. Jean Miller, S. Tracy Kemme, Associate Deb Rose-Milavec,
and S. Andrea Koverman
by helping create the conditions that eventually let it happen.

My discernment was pretty quick as I felt an immediate response to the call of standing with and for our immigrant sisters and brothers in such a prayerful and public way. My frustration and disappointment in our government to act justly on behalf of the “Dreamers” pales in comparison to how they feel at this point. Despite letter writing, phone calling, meetings and demonstrations, the promise of finally passing legislation that would protect these young people has not been fulfilled. No one can argue the fact that they did not consciously break any law. They have been raised and educated in American society and hold American values. They are working, studying, raising families and contributing to our communities. They trusted the government when they were promised that if they came out of the shadows, provided all the required information, passed extensive background checks and had stayed out of trouble that they would be protected and welcomed into society. Instead they continue to be forced to live in a state of anxious vulnerability in what has become another demonstration of our broken political system. Rather than working together to pass the legislation that the majority of Americans clearly support, the politicians are now using that knowledge to play political games with each other. The Dreamers have become a collective bargaining chip for politicians to push for unpopular agenda items that would otherwise likely fail. Would I go to DC and voice my opposition to such injustice even at the risk of arrest? You betcha. It was a moment of truth for me to refuse to comply when ordered to move along, to stop raising my voice in objection to the failure of congress to act. It was symbolic of our commitment to this cause and to communicate in no uncertain terms that we will not stop the campaign for a clean Dream Act until it is finally passed.

The reference to new wine in old wineskins stayed with me throughout the experience and continues to rumble around and resurface in my times of reflection and prayer. It is such a fitting analogy to being a religious sister in this my time and circumstance because we are in a state of such dramatic transformation. From the moment I dipped my little toe into the pool of consideration about choosing this way of life, I have been asked the question, “What do you think is the future of religious life? What do you see when you imagine the future as a sister?”

Though definite themes have surfaced such as living in community, sharing in common ministry and being radically responsive and open to whatever we feel God calling us to, the tangible specifics are not ours to see so clearly as would make us comfortable. It is part of our calling not to have all the answers, to remain uncomfortable and dependent upon God to reveal what and how we can be of service in furthering the mission of love in the world when God so chooses. Those specifics will be the new container, the new wineskins.

Journeying Together in 2017
What has become clear to me is that the substance of what is put into the wineskins is not something new. A fresh batch yes, but not a completely new substance. This revelation was affirmed at the last (and only the 2nd) meeting of a subgroup within my community we call, “Journeying Together.” It is composed of members who entered after 1980 and are under the age of 70. We gather to share the journey of moving into a new reality of religious life. One in which there is a shift from a large membership and traditional ministry to one that is small but hopefully nimble and responsive to the signs of our times. It was an intimate weekend during which we focused not on the “what” of our lives but on the “why.” Sister after sister shared their personal call and named the sacred why that God planted in each of their hearts. And collectively, our communal why crystalized. We articulated the passionate response to God's invitation to be co-creators of the kindom that connects each Sister of Charity of Cincinnati across the expanse of time, from Elizabeth Seton all the way down to our newest member, Whitney Schieltz and with every sister in-between. That is the consistent substance that God is pouring into the new wineskins of our times.

It strikes me that our experience in DC was a beautiful illustration of the evolution of religious life, the new building upon the old. Not too many people initially responded to the call to participate, and I asked our Jean Miller, who is about 84 years young if she had thought about coming. She said that she had been dealing with some dizziness, but it seemed to have passed. She expressed a little concern that she might not have the energy, but if Tracy and I would be with her, she thought she could do it. Jean is one of those classic social justice sisters that are such an inspiration new members. We got to learn about some of the work she has done with and on behalf of immigrants during formation. I was thrilled that she would join us! That was a bit of the “old” joining the new. Something else that symbolized an aspect of the transitioning occurring in religious life was having our associate, Deb Rose-Milavec join us in the demonstration. She also responded to the call for women religious to participate in possible civil disobedience not as a vowed but an associate member of our community. We know and celebrate that the associate membership will continue to take shape and grow in deepening relationship with vowed members of congregations.

S. Annie working her shirt magic
The four of us were all set to go, but we needed a “team shirt” with our congregation’s name on it. With no time to have anything new printed, we remembered that our sisters were regular participants in the annual protests at the School of the Americas for years, and we had often seen them sporting bright blue t-shirts displaying our community name and the saying, “Peace grows from Justice.” Perfect! An all-call posted on our intracommunity email produced a rapid response in shirts, and were given even more upon a visit with our sisters who live in the Bedford, Ohio area. Annie worked magic with her sewing machine and suddenly we had shirts to wear to champion a new cause that had been worn by some of our senior sisters as they championed an older one. I felt clothed in the spirit of my sisters through the nearly two centuries since we were founded as I marched, sang and prayed with the ones of today. It was beautiful!

In the process of evolving into the “new wine” of religious life, I encourage you to let all the ingredients of new vision, direction and energy ferment and bubble up while being grateful for the container of religious life that always has been able to accommodate such expansiveness, allowing us to live that out it the unique way that we have been called! Hazard yet forward!