On Saturday, my friend Ryan Booth and I were sitting in folding chairs in a high school gym outside of New Orleans, waiting for Justice Antonin Scalia to arrive. I told Ryan how much I was learning for my Benedict Option project from reading the Reformed theologian Hans Boersma’s 2011 book Heavenly Participation, which is about sacramentalism.
Suddenly, a young woman sitting in front of us turned around, apologized for overhearing us, but saying that she couldn’t help asking us what we were talking about. She said that her boyfriend, an Evangelical pastor in New Orleans, had studied theology under Boersma at Regent, and was a huge admirer of Benedictine spirituality. She said he even visits the Benedictine abbey of St. Joseph’s, in Covington.
The boyfriend is Jeff Pate, pictured above, a full-time hospital chaplain and a member of the congregation at Canal Street Church in New Orleans. Jeff showed up to the talk just before Justice Scalia did. Turns out that one of his parishioners was sitting in the row in front of him and his girlfriend, and recognized me from this blog. That parishioner said that several families in his circles are thinking of moving out to St. Bernard Parish, where land devastated by Katrina is relatively cheap now, and settling in Christian community there. Fascinating! Before Scalia talked, Jeff and I had a few minutes for a short interview. From our alas-too-short chat, which I recorded:
How did you find out about Benedictine monasticism?
When I was in grad school at Regent College in Vancouver, I was introduced to the Benedictine monastery of Westminster Abbey, which is about an hour and a half outside of Vancouver. Some of our professors had told us about it, and we would sometimes do retreats out there. That’s how I was first introduced to the Benedictine way of life: their hospitality, their balance of work and prayer, their rhythm. What has become increasingly important to me is how work and prayer are sometimes the same thing. I didn’t really catch that at first.
What do you think Evangelicals have to learn from the Benedictines?
Dr. James Houston, who was a founding father of Regent, was teaching us about the importance of the recovery of the Psalms. I was introducted to that at school, and I certainly found that in the Benedictine way of life. Reading the Psalms is an everyday thing for them. We can learn from the Benedictines the recovery of Biblical prayer.
What about the Benedict Option? Does it appeal to you?
I think for my own life, it begins for me within my person, and carries over into my family, and then my church. Something that would be accessible at this point is rediscovering the rhythm of prayer, the re-communion with Christ. For me, that’s where the Benedict Option starts: with prayer, in prayer-centered communities. We were just talking with a parishioner of ours a few minutes ago about education. Education is something that matters a lot to me too — educating our kids in a Christ-centered way, how that forms education. I think that’s a pretty exciting opportunity as well.