Saturday, February 25, 2012

Interview: Brother Zane Young talks about his New Franciscans in the Episcopal Church, an Order

This is neither advertisement nor opinion piece,
but a report on Episcopal Franciscans
by Peter Menkin 

This is neither advertisement nor opinion piece, but a report on Episcopal Franciscans who as Friars may be married as well as single…married man to man, or man to woman.
First, a look for context’s sake of where Brother Rich works part-time as a Friar – this is an overview

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul operates a free dining room and service center in San Rafael California. It feeds and cares for the poor and homeless of Marin County. The Society’s goal is to deal with that population’s inital emergencies and shepherd individuals into programs that can bring about lasting change in their lives. Video production by Harris Cohen and Cris Jones. Facilities provided by John MacLeod and The MYC, San Rafael.
–The Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Marin County


1. I have for a long time liked and admired the Franciscan Order, so when I learned that my friend Brother Rich had become a full Brother of the Franciscans, no longer a Third Order Member, I became curious. I became curious because Brother Rich is married. I thought monastics–as Franciscan Brothers are considered–were unmarried. In our phone conversation made to you in Washington State from my home office in Mill Valley, California (north of San Francisco), you said your Order started in 2005, allowed married brothers. Please tell us about this new phenomenon in monasticism, and a little about how men may partner with men, or marry, and that married men with spouses who-are-female may also become married. Do you find this unusual, and why this “new” monastic value?
I don’t find it unusual in the fact that we do it. It is probably unusual because it has not been done by the Church in Franciscan orders. Basically, the Franciscan tradition we have today in the Church is here from the Catholics, handed down from the Anglo-Catholic tradition. When it came from the Anglican, especially the Episcopalians in this country. Since we are Anglicans, we had to be a little different because of the war [American war of Revolution from the British]. The tradition of Franciscan friars and fathers came down from England and Scotland. It came down from SSF (Society of Saint Francis); it came down from the Catholic Church: their friars, they are celibate.

The diner said, "Take a picture of my tray of food..." and it is a lot of first serving. Photo by Terry Peck

The writer offering bread while at the Dining hall. Photo by Terry Peck.

2. Speak with us a little about the Franciscan work in the world, what the brothers in your order are doing with people, and something of where they live and practice their Episcopal faith. Are they all Episcopalians, and is everyone who is engaged with the running of your Franciscan order and its membership Episcopalian?

Yes. All of guys right now are Episcopalian. One is Anglican and he is living in England. We are open to anyone in the community: Lutheran, Australian, etc. as long as they are in Communion with the See of Canterbury. That’s another caveat that makes us a little bit different from the SSF (Society of Saint Francis), and even the Third Order.
We have one brother in particular who ministers to military families who are in crisis. [The brother ministers to]…military men who are returning from Afghanistan or other areas of war… or military installations in ongoing situations of conflict. The brother counsels military personnel themselves and their families. This includes post-traumatic stress. Brother Rich is involved with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Francisco’s Marin County. Other brothers are involved with homeless shelters. Myself, I used to work with battered women in their shelters.
[Franciscan theology] I think that the theology comes from ministry to the poor, the disadvantaged and those [who are] lesser in society. Where it seems to manifest itself today are people who are in a crisis. It seems to come from–this poverty sense– that was Francis’ plan to [be an] Order of the poor, the sick–that’s what Francis would do. We approach our vow of poverty to cast off our clothes as Francis did. We try to live simply, within our means, and give within our means to others. We provide for our families and our churches, and we give to those who depend on us. Poverty is a tricky word. We’ve had guys in the Order who have trouble struggling with that word. The word itself is important, for it takes us back to the vows of Francis. How we live and understand that word poverty is how we live that question.

Portrait of Brother Rich in the alley near entrance to dining hall. Photo by Terry Peck.

3. I’d like to hear something of what is special about this 2012 for you and the Franciscans of your Order: practice and spirituality. If it is as observance and practice similar to that of other Christians, speak to us about some of the practices of the brothers, including some examples of specific and personable, not personal-private, practices of members of the Order or even you as Provincial Minister.
In private practice, it doesn’t change, that is they are required to do the Daily Offices. Most of these guys have been doing the Daily Offices for years. We all follow those Offices as stated in the Book of Common Prayer. Several will use different sources for these things. We like to use new technologies. We utilize the web site for Mission St. Clare. There are a lot of different websites. In Lent I will use the COE (Church of England), use the Prayer Book of 1612.
It doesn’t really matter the source. I want them to be invigorated by the word and not be buried by it.
We are one entity; I am not a Provincial Minister. I’m a Minister General. There is one, just us. We try to keep our structure very simple, to the point, and only to what we need considering administrative structure. Pretty much, we’re governed by the Rule and by the Vow. They are very simple in structure as well. We took the rule and vow from Francis. We also operate under a democratic form. If the professed bring up something, we listen to it and we can make decisions that way.
When it comes to matters of operation, discipline and induction, I have the final decision—it lies with me.
We don’t have a Friary. If you go back in history, our brothers feel we actually live closer to the rule of 1223. Francis wanted them out of the monastery. He didn’t want them hidden in a box. He wanted them out in the world. Brothers living communally, 3 or 4 max—two or three living together was fine. But not as an ongoing presence. We’re new in that we harken back to something old. We are new in that we allowed people to be married, to be fathers. To be partnered, to have multiple vocations. We don’t mind if they are married, divorced, partnered. We don’t stand in their way. Their marital status or sexual status is not a criterion for why we think they are a brother. Unfortunately, with the SSF that is not the case. You must be single. Otherwise you can’t be in their Order.
4. One lovely statement by St. Francis has to do with his writings about Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Will you give a little off-the-cuff sermon on this writing for me in this interview, however brief? I’ll type what you say as you speak (as best I can).
That basically came from Francis as a sense of joy. It is a sense of gratitude for what he had been given and what we have been given. That means a lot to a lot of people. Like the Prayer of St. Francis. There’s really more there than the statue that’s in the bird garden. That’s what people see, that’s what they gravitate to: Pets and deer and all the animals of the forest love him. The truth of that is that is true. He is the Patron Saint of all things ecological and environmental. But that being said, Francis was a lot more. All those images that are warm and fuzzy, there is more than that: It is also appreciative of blessings. He was trying to exemplify to others being thankful for the blessings we all get.

Religion writer Peter Menkin with Brother Rich. Photo by Terry Peck.

5. Brother Rich works each month at St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Rafael, California helping with the food and talking to guests who come for breakfast and lunch. At one point, when visiting, I witnessed the gentle 60 year old married Franciscan brother help end a dispute that almost became a fist fight in the dining hall. He literally intervened, putting his arm around the more hostile of the two in dispute who thought he was “dissed” by the other man, and with his other arm guided the tough street guy out the door. Then after the man was clear of the entry way, he returned to the dining hall and got him a bag lunch, and brought it to the angry man. I thought this remarkable, if not brave. Talk a little about Franciscan ministry in your part of the Order with the poor and down-and-out.
That’s a Judeo-Christian thing. Prior to Francis, God calls us to love one another. That’s the core of Judeo-Christian faith. There’s an abhorrence of war and fighting. We are called in the Western World as Christians to instill the light in others and bring peace and harmony to others. That is what Francis calls us to do. To use the Prayer that Francis uses says it.

A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

It’s attributed to him. We really don’t have a whole lot of writing by him. We have a couple of books. We have two Rules. The Admonitions of Francis. It is far between. That prayer, it’s one that we use because it wraps it up very simply, very eloquently; what we are to do in the world. Period. That’s what our call is to be. That’s what we are supposed to do.

Offering some free food in front of the bread shelves. Photo by Terry Peck.

When one takes the vows, poverty, chastity, obedience. The applicant writes it as he will live it and then it is read at profession. There has been talk about writing a profession vow. There are a lot of Orders that do that. I find merit in that, but I find a little wrong with that. I think it is important that they understand the vows, and integrate that, incorporate the vows into their being—this is how I am going to interpret these vows into my life. The profession is done at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA (it is a public profession). It’s open. There is nothing private, secretive, cloistered about it. I am still leaning on keeping the vows set by them.
Readers and others can find our Order on the website or there are other sources in the church (Anglicans online), or you can Google us with Order of Saint Francis and you’ll find us. Normally the way it works is someone will investigate, and there is a contact on the website and they will send an email to us: [The interested party may say,] I want to talk about this, I am interested in joining and what do I do. We then make contact with them, have a dialogue about it, and find out where they are in their spiritual journey.

The Homeless Poet
Written at the Dining Hall just after lunch on a Sunday
Yes I Do Pray
Let me express to you the truth! I pray, I pray for Sunny Days to come our way, Hey, Heah! What you say! You know what that is the way life goes, ya know. Ho,Ho! Do you feel real good Deep, Deep down inside of you down in your soul, like a pot of gold you get that you get to hold. Better when you’re old! Yes! I Pray! I Pray! I pray for happiness, love, peace of mind to come our way.
Each and every day. Hey! Hey!

Homeless poet just outside the Dining Hall in the B Street Alley, San Rafael, CA. Photo by
Terry Peck

I pray at night when we lose our sight and wake up shiny and bright. That’s right. I sleep deep! I Pray, Yes, I Pray! I can say, Yes, God loves us all! The same way. Yes, I do pray. I pray, I pray!
Written by The Homeless Poet, a man of verse.

The Blood of Christ
He saved our lives! You know that’s right! He walked on water on Sunday Nights. Turned water into wine on Friday. So we can go out and play. Hear what I say. The blood of Jesus. Jesus will be back. Back dressed in black. Believe that!
More writings from The Homeless Poets notebook, written at the Dining Hall and shared with all who will take the time to read his words.

Two guests having lunch at "Vinnies." Photo by St. Vincent de Paul.

This article appeared originally in Church of England Newspaper, London.

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