Our Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Bless! The Lord!
Suddenly last week, after a long Indian Summer, the weather has really changed into Fall with the leaves turning here in Southwestern Wisconsin and the temperatures dropping at night, so the reality of tidying up the outdoors and looking right now at many other “just-a-little-later” projects to get ready for winter are upon us. Fall is a time for energy and change. Many birds migrate, most animals put on weight and more fur (if they have it), and the harvest has either occurred or will come soon. Change and energy can be both good and hard, and this is true in both outward and inward things, so a moment’s reflection can help us all use our resources--whether material, spiritual, or time usage--more wisely and see us through this season to what is coming soon. Looking ahead and looking behind are useful, and planning our best with still room for God to act is even better.
We invite you into the process yourself now by listening for a few moments to our small reflections, and then to take some time for your own reflections on what will help you think, pray, and plan your own shift of seasons inside and out. Fall is a good time to change. It is happening in any case whether we think so or not. If we use it well it will bring warmth and peace into our lives, and in the realm of the spirit, the word change means repentance which is the positive process of review, reassessment, and refocus, and then the openness to see with fresh eyes how to use our time and resources wisely with humility and faith. God grant us this openness and wisdom, this humility and faith!
We notice here at the Skete that challenges come very regularly, although they are varied, and sometimes are more clustered or focused in certain areas. We used to think that these challenges were just something to “overcome” in a timely way, but on reflection their regularity has made us reconsider. Just as friction and resistance are necessary parts of exercise, so the variety of challenges gives us the opportunity to stretch our attention and energy into new areas and to become at the same time more patient and trusting in God’s amazing Providence. It is only when challenges are seen as simply obstacles that they don’t help us grow. The first part of every challenge is to get our minds rearranged into seeing the seeming problem as an opportunity for growth, and this growth comes from change, and that change comes from seeing it in positive terms and talking and thinking that way.
Not that this is always easy, indeed it often looks quite different, but Good and Hard often come together, while less than good and Easy seem to go together too. What have our challenges been recently? Let’s take a moment to review them. First, the overhanging trees on the Guest House, the Icon Studio, and an office were causing roof damage by falling limbs, debris sticking to the roofs and clogging the gutters, and the threat of leaning trees falling due to winds and winter ice. Of course, who wants to spend money on seemingly non-essential things in this economy. The good news is that by working with a local contractor and with monastic help and that of a God-sent guest who showed up unexpectedly, this cleared the trees needed and provided half of our wood supply for the Common Monastic Building this winter. One more week of labor after the contractor left and now we have 2/3rds of the wood cut up and stacked near the boiler, the high weeds near the monastic cells in the back valley cleared, and most of the outside preparation for winter in the back valley done. Both of our chain saws are now tuned up and well-functioning. That was a blessing in disguise.
Common Monastic Building - Fall 2009
The ice damming two winters ago caused massive damage to the back part of the Common Monastic Building including falling sheetrock, insulation, mold and moisture problems, and damage to some of the equipment stored there. Luckily we had taken out insurance on that building just six months before the damage. The insurance company sent out a structural engineer to help determine all of the things that would help prevent this from happening again. Well, these two years have let us revise the design of the building to a larger open space, re-put down the roof with better insulation and air spaces, remove turbines and non-essential stove pipes, pour a cement floor with heating pipes to solve the heating problem in that area, add more windows and light to the area, and recently build two eight foot long portable tool storage benches to store all of our resorted tools. The ground outside in the back of the building was re-graded for better drainage too. All that is left is connecting the floor heating pipes and re-sheet-rocking and painting the remodeled space.
Our website has had growing problems as there was much custom work in setting this up five years ago. It needs an update. We are also about to add over 25,000 new products to it with a thousand new custom historic icons in an average of ten sizes and also new laminated prints for all of our icons both standard and customs. Big job and big challenge, no doubt. This is the result of ten months of preparation work in choosing the icons, scanning them, color correcting them, sizing them, and then data entering all of the specific history of each icon by category. Yet, the website is almost ready to take the new products, the interface of website to our accounting and inventory system will be addressed at long last, and we get to review the numbering system that had been outgrown from the time it was set up in the accounting system twenty years ago. In the end it is a big improvement and should be ready by November 1, 2009, God willing and blessing.
The economics of last year’s downturn from October onward has affected every part of our economy nationally and here at the Skete and Mission. Earlier challenges in a recessive niche market over three years had caused us to become innovative in reducing our costs and streamlining our efforts and expenses to meet these financial demands. In addition, almost all non-profits are greatly affected by reduced revenues from the tighter budgets of their donors and supporters. This is real everywhere. The first challenge is ongoing but working in the right direction and has even given us the opportunity to look for more diversity in product offerings as were just mentioned. The second challenge is the reason that we are sending this newsletter and donation appeal out. We need your help, but just ask for many modest gifts from you now.
What have we learned from all this? Probably the strongest realization is that God is looking ahead farther than we are, and He is helping us prepare for what we need to do before we even see how the challenge will improve things. The biggest challenge is not what is before us, but the attitude towards that challenge, and that means being thankful. None of this looked like a blessing when it began to unravel. It was hard to think “thanks be to God” at the time. Maybe, especially if you pray for us, we will be more grateful sooner in the future and keep our trust and positive attitude high. You can help. Pray that we change, that we learn, that we are open, humble, grateful, and willing to do our part with thanksgiving. That will be a wonderful change for us this Fall for the coming seasons.
How else can you help? First of all, take some time now and do a little searching on your recent challenges. Try to see what blessings (often these may be seemingly hard at the time) are there for you. Since we are all connected in Christ, then your understanding and subsequent gratefulness will spill over on us, and we are consciously praying for your blessings too, whether they are hard or easy. The best growth for all of us often comes in well-pruned challenging times.
In addition, if you can help modestly, it would be a wonderful blessing for us. Until early this summer we had just enough donations to barely manage our needs for a seriously revised budget to live and eat and pay our bills. I’m sure this is a challenge for all. We have not forgotten to continue to help others, even when it is hard. Generosity makes the heart softer and stronger. Since early summer it has been much harder to manage and we are being prudent. If many give just a little, it will be enough. Give an additional two mites if you can. Please remember the Convent and Mother Elizabeth too. Lastly, and most importantly, let us pray for each other in these challenging times, so that this growth and these blessings will bring us to the blessing of Eternity in the Kingdom that will have no end.
God bless your good hearts,
The brotherhood of St. Isaac of Syria
and the sisterhood of St. Silouan’s Convent
and the community of St. Nicholas Church