From Collegeville to Monrovia

Ruth Anne Olson

From Collegeville to Monrovia

A Black man in sunglasses removes a box of books from the trunk of a car. A Black man in sunglasses removes a box of books from the trunk of a car.

It’s not every day that a community of Catholic Benedictine monks touches the lives of Episcopalians in Liberia. The account you’re about to read is a small story. But it’s an important one — a moment when music, generosity, and collaboration topple boundaries that often separate us. Indeed, the Holy Spirit at work. 

In the mid-1980s, St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN was looking for a hymnal for use in Abbey worship. Following Vatican II, deep changes had taken place at St. John’s, among them, a major increase in their liturgical use of English hymns. The monks had published their own modest Collegeville Hymnal, but now sought to enhance it with a larger collection. The Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church was the answer — selected because of both high literary and musical qualities.

And so, for nearly 40 years, The Hymnal 1982 sat in the monks’ choir stalls—Episcopal and Catholic hymnody side by side. Fast forward to the present. The Abbey’s Fr. Anthony, with his team of monks and other helpers, have now completed their very own Saint John’s Abbey Hymnal. “Surely,” thinks Fr. Anthony, “someone can use the dozens of Episcopal books that have graced our Abbey’s worship for so long." He contacted Minnesota’s Episcopal Diocese, which offered to place a notice in the weekly e-news.

Now, to back up a bit. St. Andrew’s and Sts. Luke and James are two Episcopal parishes in Minneapolis. St. Andrew’s, on the north side, draws mainly from the cultures of Liberia and West Africa. Sts. Luke and James, on the south side, draws mainly from the cultures of Europe. About a year ago, folks in the two parishes began to talk together. About their commonalities; about their differences. The conversations led to a statement of purpose—“to become engaged with each other, to learn from one another, and to listen for ways that each parish might strengthen its service to its community.” Since November, a handful of folks from each congregation has, monthly, visited the other for worship. That’s a small gesture, for sure. And no one yet knows what, if anything, is coming next.

Somewhere along the way, the folks from Sts. Luke and James learned about the Liberian Episcopal Community of the U.S.A. They learned that one of LECUSA’s projects is to bless their fellow Episcopalians, in the U.S. A. and in Liberia, with liturgical supplies, such as hymnals.

So—you see where the story is going. Folks from Sts. Luke and James saw the notice about the Abbey’s hymnals, and alerted their friends at St. Andrew’s. St. Andrew’s parish administrator contacted Fr. Anthony. Soon two people from Sts. Luke and James took a quick trip, through the spring beauty of Minnesota’s farmland, to Collegeville. One hundred hymnals were loaded—two days later, unloaded. And soon they’ll be on their way to Liberian congregations—close to home, in Monrovia, and beyond.

Everyone involved now knows a little bit more about people and places that, before, seemed pretty remote. It's hard to miss the hand of the Holy Spirit here, leading us ever deeper into God's love for all. It's a small story. And it is, indeed, how the world is changed.