March 22, 2020, was a normal Sunday at the Abbey of St. Walburga. The only difference was that we weren’t able to allow guests to come to Mass that morning, because there happened to be a global pandemic going on and everyone in the entire world (so it seems) was in “lockdown”…but for cloistered nuns, it was business as usual. After all, we have been practicing social distancing for centuries. It’s already our practice to leave our monastery as infrequently as possible, limiting our contact with the outside world; so you could say we’re experts! All joking aside, what an experience this has been. It’s as if everyone is going through a big collective “novitiate.” Like a monastic novitiate, it’s a time of trial and testing and pain; it’s a time of growth and self-discovery that can lead to deep joy. I like to think that our Abbey’s role in all of this is to witness to that possibility of joy and hope. Maybe just knowing that there are nuns out there crazy enough to freely choose this lifestyle can give others courage to get through it.
We have a number of elderly sisters in our community, so we have had to be very cautious not to expose them. For six weeks we made do with what we had on site, never visiting a grocery store (but gratefully assisted by donations of food and paper goods from kind supporters). During that time, the role of our humble milk cow suddenly became much more important; and as one of the milkers, I experienced the satisfaction of being able to provide something we couldn’t have had otherwise.
In the Rule, St. Benedict recommends that monks have as many necessities as possible available within the cloister “so that there is no necessity for the monks to go about outside of it” (RB 66). Making cheese has not been possible at the Abbey since we sold the modular buildings; a re-model of one of our outbuildings into a “cheese hut” seemed to meet innumerable delays. However, come March of 2020, motivation spiked to make the “cheese hut” a reality—speedily! This project was finally completed in July, and we were able to produce our first hard cheese in two years…just in time, we hope and pray, for everything to return to normal. (We regret, though, that we are not currently able to make our cheese available for sale.)
On Sunday, May 10, 2020, we were happily able to allow guests in our Church again on a limited basis, with masks and distancing in place. Without them, we were missing a part of ourselves. We hope that you, wherever you are, are finding light along your pandemic journey; know that some nuns in the middle of nowhere are praying that you do.
A practical note: if you live nearby and want to come to Sunday Mass, please call ahead as we have to reserve seating to make distancing possible.