At the center of any monastery are the monks, that is, people who have been received as professed members of the community. Profession consists of solemn commitments to make the monastery one’s home for life, to participate in all the offices of prayer, and to dedicate one’s time and energy to the work of the community. Of course this regular pattern of life is sometimes interrupted by travel, illness, and other obligations, but no community is a monastery without this core people. There are two professed monks at St. Augustine’s House in 2011.
Monasteries also have other residents who do not have the monk’s level of commitment but participate in much of the worship and work of the place. These long-term residents are usually “associates” of the community. Associates are supporters and frequent visitors, if not residents. They try to live lives which reflect monastic values and practices at the monastery and in their homes elsewhere. In traditional monastic terminology these are called oblates or third order members. There are 35 associates as this is written.
Surrounding the resident community are the concentric circles of friends and guests. St. Augustine’s House has hosted thousands of people in conferences, retreats, and daily services over the years. Many of these become members of The Fellowship of St. Augustine and receive the newsletters of the community. Each summer near the 28th of August, St. Augustine’s Day in church calendars, members gather for worship and discussion with a lecture by a prominent speaker.
Monasteries welcome guests for periods from a few days to a few years. These are people who appreciate a time of monastic exercise in their lives. St. Augustine’s House has been a temporary home for many people, somewhat in the pattern of the Hindu ashram. Many options in degree and length of affiliation to the community are helpful. These periods of retreat are needed in the face of all the changes of life today. These changes demand and afford a some time to reflect and consolidate one’s goals, associations, and spiritual life. People can use a retreat when completing seminary or other schooling, retiring from work, grieving the loss of a spouse or close friend, or any of a number of life adjustments. Living at a monastery for weeks or months can provide a breathing space and recuperation to prepare for the next things God gives.
Another group of friends of the community and the House are the people of the neighborhood who worship on Sundays at the chapel. For them the monastery becomes a special kind of parish. They do not live in the buildings or attend prayers each day but visit frequently.