Five young women are blazing a new path forward as inaugural participants in the Companions on the Way program. They have officially commenced a year in residence living alongside members of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine (SSJD) at their convent in Toronto, Ont.
On Sunday, Sept. 11, the sisters, joined by Bishop Linda Nicholls, officially commissioned the five Companions: Alisa Samuel, Amanda Avery, Christine Stoll, Hanné Becker, and Sarah Moesker.
Throughout the next 12 months, the Companions will share the daily rhythm of the sisters’ life by engaging in regular prayer, Bible reading, and reflection; focusing on study and work projects; and contributing to a monastic community rooted in spiritual growth and transformation.
Education opportunities include participation in courses offered by the sisters and Wycliffe College. Work projects range from helping the ministry of hospitality in the Guest House, where they will reside, to serving as spiritual care visitors at St. John’s Rehab, assisting in various administrative tasks, or working in areas such as the library, chapel, or kitchen.
The Rev. Sr. Constance Joanna Gefvert, SSJD, described Companions on the Way as a “new monastic community within a traditional monastic community,” reflecting a larger new monastic movement across North America.
Meet the Companions
Each of the Companions, despite their varied backgrounds, saw participation in the program as a way to continue their personal spiritual journey.
Alisa Samuel, the daughter of a Catholic mother and Protestant father, attends St. Jerome’s Roman Catholic Church and New Covenant Church in Brampton, Ont., where she works in customer service and studies piano.
“In the most simple terms, I’m here today to pursue a call on my life,” she said. “My belief is that this experience will probably be an excellent source for personal self-development, spiritual growth, and discernment for future directions as well.”
Amanda Avery, currently pursuing her M. Div at the Atlantic School of Theology, is the director of the Ready-Set-Go program, which benefits low-income pre-schoolers in Halifax.
A member of St. Francis-by-the-Lake Anglican Church, she feels a calling to become ordained as an Anglican priest, and saw the Companions on the Way program program as an opportunity “to discern where I’m going in the next few years, and to understand who I am professionally, who I am religiously, who I am in my career as a child and youth worker … what I’m here to offer the world.”
Sister Elizabeth Rolfe-Thomas, Reverend Mother for the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, presents the Companions on the Way with individual crosses to wear. Photo by Matt Gardner
Christine Stoll, originally from Austria, has been living in Canada for the past 15 years and serves as a math teaching assistant at Douglas College in Port Coquitlam, B.C.
A member of St. Catherine of Alexandria Anglican Church, she expressed hopes that living with the sisters would help her with discernment and to “renew and deepen my relationship with God.”
Hanné Becker, a Namibian-born Canadian organist who grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church, recently completed a master’s degree in musical performance at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland. During her studies at the Swiss school, she spent a year living with two sisters in intentional community.
“The experience was really transformative to me and my faith, and also I started to get the desire to serve God in a way that he wants me to,” Becker said.
She described the deep faith and reliability of the sisters as an inspiration to join the Companions on the Way.
“When this came up, I thought, this is a great opportunity to explore that further and see what God has in mind, and to follow the leading of the Spirit.”
Sarah Moesker, a student at Canadian Mennonite University and a member of St. Benedict’s Table at All Saints Anglican Church in Winnipeg, Man., originally hails from Rocky Mountain House, Alta. She felt compelled to join the Companions as her time at university drew to a close.
“For me, I think it comes at a perfect time,” she said, comparing the emotional and spiritual labour she experienced in recent years with the appeal of coming to a place where one could be “mentally, emotionally, and spiritually functional as a person.”
“Now I get to do that in a community that’s already trying to deepen their relationship with God … They’re moving along the same path,” Moesker said. “It’s not me kind of working against the grain of the surrounding university culture. So I feel like it’ll be restful in that way, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Learning across generations
Bishop Nicholls presided over the official commissioning of the Companions, offering reflections at the evening worship service and bringing greetings from the Community of St. Anselm at Lambeth Palace, which helped inspire the Companions on the Way program.
After the bishop blessed each of the women and individual crosses for them, the sisters presented them with the crosses, as well as journals emblazoned with the slogan, “Live the story you want to tell.”
“This is stepping out into new territory,” Bishop Nicholls said. “It’s part of what I think the church is being called to do—to step out in new ways, and the sisters are just showing us that it’s possible.
“Even for a community that many would see as kind of hidebound in tradition, the sisters here have been able to make change in so many ways, and this is another sign of that—of being able to welcome in other people into the community who might not ever have a vocation to the monastic life, but who the sisters can share something with.”
“These women will carry the seeds of that monastic life with them as they go out,” she added. “That’s a good thing for everyone.”
While the Companions expressed excitement at sharing and learning from the structured life of the sisters, many of the sisters were equally enthused at the chance to learn from the young women who would be joining them at the convent.
“It’s going to be exciting … but we don’t really know what to expect,” said Sr. Elizabeth Ann Eckert, SSJD. “We can only share … the way we pray, the way we live … the values that we have in that life with these women, and they’ll pick up what they need from that to take back out.”
Sr. Doreen McGuff, SSJD, concurred, while pushing back against negative stereotypes of millennials.
“For me, having young people come and live with us—young people who’ve chosen to do this, young people who are searching and seeking for some kind of relationship with themselves and with God—is going to be a real blessing,” Sr. McGuff said.
“Having them amongst us is a real opportunity to see what the future of the world is going to be like,” she added. “I personally feel we haven’t really done a good job, my generation, and maybe the next generation is going to do a better job. So I’m looking forward to learning what they’ve got to teach us.”