In our world of hurry and worry, where can I go to find a few moments of tranquility and peace? In our world of noise and interruptions, where can I step aside for a while to find some calm for my life? There is one place nearby that I would recommend to you. For many the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is just such a place. You will find the Monastery about a half hour from Covington on Ga. Hwy. 212 near Conyers.
Located on 2,300 acres, the Monastery is a place of beauty. You are invited to visit. When you visit you will have the opportunity to stroll the grounds, visit the Abbey, and even eat at the Refectory Café for a beverage, or a light lunch.
Monks and the concept of Monasteries have been a part of the Church since its earliest of days. In fact the idea is found in all the major religions. It came to our corner of the world in 1944, when a group of twenty one Trappist monks made the journey from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. The Kentucky Abbey is the oldest Monastery in America. They came to build a new community of faith in Georgia. The first monks lived in a barn on the old Honey Creek Plantation. It was hard going at first, since among others things the barn was not heated.
The area was much more rural than today. It is reported that there was only one family of the Catholic Faith in Rockdale County. For the next fifteen years the monks worked at building the beautiful Norman Gothic style Abbey Church that is now the heart of the monastery. The Abbey was recently named by the “Georgia Contractor” as Georgia’s most outstanding concrete building. At the same time they built the abbey, they worked and farmed to be a self-supporting community.
Today this tradition of self-support remains for the Monastery. You can shop at the gift store that sells biscotti, fruit cakes, and fudge made by the monks in addition to a variety of gift items. There is also a bonsai garden where plants can be purchased. You will find pottery available there also.
The monks are renowned for the beautiful stained glass they make. They began making the glass in 1957 for their Abbey. Now they have created windows for many churches, schools, other public buildings, as well as private homes, throughout America.
I had my first experiences with the Monastery about fifty years ago when I was a student at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. I had several classes that were a combination of students from Candler, Columbia Seminary, and the Interdenominational Theological Center at Atlanta University as well as from the Monastery. I remember being impressed by the faith and commitment of those who made up the Monastery. Through the years, I have been on retreats there was well. It is indeed an island of peace in a very special way.
The Monastery is a community of more than forty monks spanning several generations. They live, work and pray together. A part of being a Trappist is the call for prayer together, seven times a day. The first service is at 4 a.m. and the final one of the day is at 7:30 p.m. The services are in the Abbey and are open to the public. The gates for the grounds open at 4:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m. There are other services on Sunday and holidays.
I can remember when I was part of the classes that included the monastery that the Archbishop of Atlanta was quoted as saying he would rather have one monk in Conyers praying that ten father in the parish working. Since I was preparing to spend my life working in the “parish”, I found myself resenting this statement. But over the years I have realized the power of prayer. A visit to the monastery may help you appreciate why the Archbishop felt the way he did.
You will find a visitor’s center featuring interactive displays, exhibits, and videos about the monastic tradition. You can learn more about the life of the monks, and the call to the monastic life. You will learn about their daily life. If you want to learn more there is the five year old Heritage Center. This center is a 17,000 square foot complex dedicated to the history of the Monastery. You may have hands on activities to help create a unique visit.
Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be a Holy Year of Mercy. A part of this year is to designate specific places to be a “Door of Mercy”. One of the seven in the northern part of Georgia is at the Monastery. In calling for this year, the Pope said, “We want to live this year in the light of the Lord’s words, ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’” (Luke 6:36)
During the Season of Lent, you might want to make a visit to the Monastery. Step back into one of the old traditions of the Christian Faith. Allow yourself to experience God’s mercy and peace. Step aside from the ordinary and experience the extraordinary.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.