Finding peace in an Eastern KY monastery
About ten minutes drive from the town of Martin in Floyd County, you find a gravel road on a mountainside that leads to The Dwelling Place Monastery.
The road winds its way through dense woods past a retreat center, several guest cottages, and the two-story home of the Mt. Tabor Benedictines.
The Benedictines are a religious order of men and women who live a communal life of prayer, work, and community outreach. Currently, seven Benedictine sisters live on the 24-acre monastery property in Floyd County.
Five are Catholic nuns, another is an Episcopal Priest, and one sister describes herself as a follower of Jesus Christ who does not have a church affiliation.
One of them, Sister Eileen Schepers, helped start the monastery in 1983. She says there were no buildings or roads on the property.
“There was nothing here. There was the rubble of a house that had burned down as we drove into the driveway down below but there was no road past that. And this was all just forest, a lot of vines and poison ivy.”
Their mission was to establish a prayer center where people of all denominations could come to pray and disconnect from the busy world. Sister Eileen says people in Floyd County were not quite sure what to make of the monastery.
“The people are very spiritual people. And they understood the need for quiet. They didn't come up to see the place. You know, that was a little bit farfetched. But I think they were accepting as long as we do our own thing, and don't bother us leave us alone kind of thing. But they would see the work that we do in the community with our jobs with our ministry there. And that was good. And so gradually, we got to know people.”
All the sisters have professional jobs or do volunteer work in the local communities. There’s an attorney, a substitute teacher, the former executive director of a non-profit, and an advocate for social justice. Sister Jan Barthel volunteers at a food pantry in Salyersville at St. Luke Catholic Church.
“I think our heart has always been outreach. It is more important, prayer is important. But we can pray by assisting. For me, that's the best way to do it.”
Sister Kathy Curtis sees the work they do outside the monastery as critical to following the path of Jesus Christ.
“The work I do outside of here really stems from my belief that we are all created equal in God's eyes and that we all deserve to have the best life possible. And so, I'm always looking for ways to help the marginalized folks, whether it's the houses or the gay folks, the people with disabilities. There are so many invisible people in our society that deserve to be seen and deserve to be fed. And I think since I'm coming to the monastery, I've recognized the fact that we have so much abundance here. And it's such a good life.”
The sisters have daily prayer service in their chapel before breakfast and dinner. They say the peace and slower pace of life are key to their life at the monastery, and they want to share that experience with more groups of people.
Sister Kathleen Weigand says, “As you can see, or as you can hear, it's very peaceful up here. We're not a big institution. And there's plenty of room to be and not have to necessarily always be with people. We've got 24 acres you can hike here, you can be quiet, you can sit in the memory garden, you can take a walk with the dogs, the dogs will go with you. So, we have the retreat center.”
The sisters range in age from 64 to 82 and understand that a new generation will need to eventually move in and lead in their own way at the monastery.
Sister Kathy says it’s a time of transition.
“There's over 30 years of prayer and devotion on this mountain, it is soaked into the ground here, I do not believe that God's just gonna shut it off. And so, I truly believe that God is sending younger people, different people here to continue this place of peace, this place of acceptance. And it's, it's not going to look like what we've got now. And so, we're trying very hard to be open to whatever is coming next. While continuing to live our best lives here, as we age out is the phrase that a lot of folks use. So, we were trying to figure out different ways that we can offer hospitality for short term, or long term. And what does that look like?”
The sisters have a new website at www.mtabor.com to answer questions and allow people to see what they offer as a retreat center.
Sister Kathy says The Dwelling Place Monastery is a special place.
“It's all God's home. The whole planet is God's home. Here we've been gifted with an opportunity to live in a way, where we are connected to that on our day-to-day from the moment we get up and start with Morning Prayer until the time we go to bed. With our evening devotions, we have a structure that can be more, it's easier to be Christian here. It's easier to be spiritual here. Because we don't have all of the things that draw you away, like the traffic and the noise and the people and the job and the career and the kids. We are gifted with the ability to just stay in one place and be who God's calling us to be.”
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