An oblate’s parallel journey with the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine

Phyllis Beauchamp, an oblate of the Sisters of St. John the Divine, stands beside her favourite work of art in her home church of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It depicts Rt. Rev. Isaac Helmuth, the second bishop of Huron — like herself a convert from Judaism. Phyllis wears her oblate’s cross. Photo by Sandra Coulson

Phyllis Beauchamp, an oblate of the Sisters of St. John the Divine, stands beside her favourite work of art in her home church of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It depicts Rt. Rev. Isaac Helmuth, the second bishop of Huron — like herself a convert from Judaism. Phyllis wears her oblate’s cross. Photo by Sandra Coulson

By Phyllis Beauchamp

The book called A Journey Just Begun tells the story of the only homegrown Canadian Anglican religious order of women, the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine.”

My excitement escalated as I read it.

Twenty-five years after my conversion from Judaism to Christianity, while reading this fascinating and full history of the Sisterhood, spanning the 130 years from 1884-2014, the photo of all the oblates who attended the first Triennial Oblate Conference in 2010 caught me off guard.

The oblates are Christian women who make a commitment to serve God alongside and in partnership with the Sisterhood of St John the Divine (SSJD). This includes prayer and service to both the Sisterhood and the oblate’s local community.

Seeing myself in that group picture drew out a thousand thoughts — and one question: How did I become a part of the Sisters’ history? This was so much bigger than I ever imagined.

My spiritual journey with the Sisterhood began in 1990 only a few months after my conversion and my subsequent call to join the Anglican tradition of worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Someone I worked with loaned me a copy of The Eagle, the Sisters’ newsletter. I immediately connected with God’s call on my life to become a religious, and requested my own subscription.

At that time I did not realize the deeper meaning of that instant attraction to monastic life, specifically to this Sisterhood, and why that has never waned.

But while reading A Journey Just Begun, I felt captivated by the history of the mother foundress and subsequent chapters of each reverend mother’s ministry.

As I read Chapter 5, “A Re-visioned Community, 1994-2005,” when Sister Constance Joanna was the reverend mother, the sequence and details leaped straight into my heart.

It seemed unimaginable that during the same time my experiences parallelled SSJD’s journey.

I recognized the parallel pattern of the dates of my experiences because I kept a journal about my conversion, transformation, and healing.

It seemed God had clearly guided me for such a time as this, preparing me for a lasting connection with the Sisterhood. I willingly, enthusiastically, and unknowingly became a part of the SSJD history — a realization that deeply touched my spirit.

During this time, my physical connection came into the picture. I made my first retreat at St. John’s Convent in Toronto in September 1995, only a month before the 1995 Associates Assembly with speaker Esther de Waal. She spoke on St. Benedict’s Rule of Life and that Benedictine values meet the needs of people looking for meaning and purpose in their lives.

Benedictine spirituality had first attracted me when reading Esther’s book Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict in 1993. It was reinforced when I attended a three-day “Benedictine Experience” with the Community of the Sisters of the Church in Oakville.

That same year the SSJD were discussing Vision 2000, “a central plan of discernment for the new millennium.” This included incorporating associates more fully, considering oblates as another affiliation with the Sisterhood, and finding creative ways to share the story of SSJD.

The whole history of SSJD is an intriguing story of how God works in answer to the devoted prayers and deep faith of the sisters, associates, oblates, and friends of SSJD.

In 1996, Sister Constance Joanna travelled across Canada to speak about the Sisterhood at diocesan and provincial synods. That same year God called me to discern becoming an associate with the Sisterhood, and I joyfully made that commitment the following year.

The book says, “During the 1990s, interest was expressed off and on about the possibilities of having oblates affiliated with the Sisterhood.”

After the pilot project from 1999-2002, the evaluation resulted in the consensus to continue the program.

Meanwhile in 2002-2003, I felt called to discern becoming a sister with SSJD. Instead, my vocation as an oblate became evident.

Following further discernment, I made my oblate initial promises in 2005, in the beautiful newly built convent that the sisters moved into that same year.

My life promises as an oblate in 2009 brought my vocation discernment time to the complete fulfilment of offering my life to God, alongside and in partnership with the Sisterhood, closely coinciding with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of my conversion.

What an amazing journey!

To God be the glory!