Who can join the community? Are there membership expectations?
Are there any fees?
To participate in the program, an individual must be a Christian adult with access to a computer and the ability to participate in on-line discussions.
Despite the on-line nature of the Conversi Program, it is designed to provide access to a community of individuals who are committed to supporting one another in learning and applying monastic values and practices. To this end, members are expected to:
Provide some background information
Information such as name, address, phone number, e-mail address, picture, and a short biographical sketch in response to the application questionnaire form the basis for a personal profile page that can be edited and maintained by the member. This information is available to all the other members. Since we seldom meet face-to-face, this introductory information is helpful for getting a sense of who each member is.
Devote a portion of each day to contemplative practices
Practices such as personal prayer and meditation, lectio and spiritual reading, and liturgy of the hours are essential to the Cistercian way of prayer. Each member is called to contribute to the life of the community by taking seriously at his/her own prayer life. The particular form of a member’s prayer life is not dictated by the community, but it is important that each member cultivate a habit of prayer. It is also important that each member develop a habit of praying with and for the other members of Conversi.
Participate in the formation program
This formation program consists of a series of teachings about various monastic values and practices that are made available via the Conversi web site. Each teaching (most are available in both audio and text formats) is to be followed up by participation in the monthly chat sessions and by posting journal and forum reflections on how that value or practice can be incorporated into one’s own life. While there are 18 specific topics in the formation program, these are not purely academic exercises. Rather, each teaching provides an opportunity to begin living the Cistercian charism more fully. The cycle of 18 topics is covered over a three-year period and is supplemented by teachings on other topics that have to do with the spiritual life in general and Cistercian life in particular.
Formation in the Conversi community is something that takes place over time and that actually continues for a lifetime. One cannot “catch up” by reading/listening to previous teachings on the formation topics and posting journal/forum entries. The monthly effort to incorporate the values and practices into our lives and the formation that comes from contact with other Conversi members through the journals and forums over time is just as important, if not more so, than merely performing the exercise of listening to and posting on a given topic.
Thus, Conversi members are expected to devote at least one hour each week to participating in the various communication possibilities available on the web site. This includes the monthly chat sessions, the various forums, and the journals.
Additionally, members who are able to travel are encouraged to participate in the retreat that is held each year at New Melleray Abbey.
At some point in the future, Conversi may institute a process for making a more formal commitment to the Cistercian Associate way of life. Making that formal commitment will depend on how long one has been a member of Conversi, the level of participation in the formation program, and the member’s own discernment, along with senior members of the community, as to the timing and the shape of that commitment.
A $75.00 membership fee is assessed each year in order to cover the cost of web-site maintenance, duplication of audio materials, and other materials. (Adjustments can be arranged for those who are unable to pay.)
Signing on to the web site
Members must sign on to the web site at least four different times a month (several signons within a few hours of each other would counted as a single access to the site). This would be viewed as a pattern of activity over several months so that missing a single month on occasion would not put a member’s status in jeopardy. Four is purely arbitrary number—but it seems as if that would be the minimum number of accesses one would need to get the materials for each month’s topics and respond to forum questions, and make/respond to journal entries.
Members must make forum entries in response to the discussion questions each month. These need not be elaborate theological treatises, but we would expect that some thought be given to the topic of the month and that some of those thoughts would be shared with the community. Again, this would be viewed as a pattern of activity over several months.
Members are required to make at least one journal entry each month (or respond to another person’s entry). Journals are a place to discuss topics/issues beyond the monthly topics; they need not be intimately personal. Both the forum entries and the journal entries are ways that we can learn from each other and encourage each other in our journey. It is important that the whole community participate. This also would be viewed as a pattern of activity over several months.
Each month, there are three chat sessions based on that month’s topic. Members should participate in at least one of these chats each month. These sessions are important not only for processing the teachings each month but also for building community; participation benefits the not only the individual, but the whole community as well.
Member activity will be monitored, especially as new applications come in and a waiting list becomes necessary. Any member whose pattern of activity over several months is less than what is expected will be contacted via email and asked about their intentions regarding Conversi. If there is no response, or if the person indicates they cannot meet the requirements, that person will be dropped from the active members list so that room can be made for new applicants.