How I became a monk

fr-david-crew

Father David, Sister Mary Catherine, Sister Lanette, and me

How does an Assemblies of God minister from Southern California find himself a monk in a Catholic-based community in Eureka Springs, AR? It’s simple, really.

Shortly after I graduated from Bethany Bible College in Scotts Valley, CA, I read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  That book had a profound effect upon me, introducing me to a level of spiritual thinking that I was completely unaware of. Foster often quotes early Christian writers-and I’m not talking about writers from the early in the twentieth century. I’m talking about writers who lived over a thousand years ago. I was enthralled with the deep level of commitment made by these men and women, and at the same time, a bit ashamed that my own life with God did not even come close to emulating theirs. They were, and remain, historical mentors that have challenged my life in dramatic ways.

Celebration of Discipline also gave me a hunger for a deeper sense of God than I ever had before and showed me that my own Pentecostal tradition was woefully lacking when it came to teaching me the spiritual disciplines that helped create some of the giants of our faith. I felt a compelling need to investigate this type of spirituality further. Eventually this led me to a talk with John Michael Talbot, whom I met shortly after I graduated from college at the wedding of his brother Terry, where I was the wedding photographer.

After reading Celebration of Discipline, I kept wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. My mind kept going to John Michael, and somehow, I knew that he could answer some of my deepest questions. I had heard that John was at Terry’s house for the Christmas holidays, and so I called Terry and asked him if John would be willing to visit with me. John said yes.

We sat down in Terry’s living room, and I told John about the things God was doing in my life. We talked about my singleness, my reading, and my search for something deeper in my spiritual life. John recommended some more books for me to read, and then he did something I didn’t see coming. He invited me to visit the Little Portion Hermitage in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The Little Portion is a Catholic-based, ecumenical community that has monks, nuns, single men and women and families living on the same property. The integration of all these different expressions is part of John Michael’s original vision for the community, and is the reason I could join and not be Catholic.

Naturally, I was a bit skeptical about going to a monastic community, but the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. Finally, two things convinced me to make a visit. One, John was the first person I had met who could answer some of the questions that were weighing on my heart. Two, it was just enough out of the ordinary that I wanted to do it. It may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve never been one to play things safe, strive to be “normal,” and live according to the status quo. Therefore, on my twenty-seventh birthday, I took my first-ever paid vacation and flew out to Arkansas to visit the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage.

I stayed there a week, spent hours talking with John and members of the community, and finally returned home. I was working in a cabinet shop in Newberry Park at the time, and I remember trying to put together cabinets while my mind was back in Arkansas. I simply could not get the community off my mind and out of my heart, and I finally made the decision to return. Two months later I was living at the Little Portion Hermitage in Eureka Springs, AR.

I was a monk for four years, and left before I took permenant vows. I married Barbara almost two years after leaving the Little Portion. Although we attended the same Assemblies of God church in Berryville, AR, I didn’t really know who she was until after I left the community, but that is another story.

29 comments on “How I became a monk

  1. This is a great story! In our more laid back moments, my friends that I blog with at theophiliacs often dream about starting a monastery and seminary in the north woods of MN some day. Your experience seems like one we’d like to recreate.

  2. Minnesota? Maybe I’d come visit in July. I’m from Southern California, so I’m not too fond of the cold. If I remember correctly, John Michael says he thought about having the community in Hawaii. Now, wouldn’t that be a sacrifice!

  3. Hey Jim, here is a blast from the past….Betsy forwarded your blog site to me and I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reflections. Your pictures from Little Portion days bring up many great memories. Thanks for the site and I look forward to getting your book!

  4. Debbie,

    It’s good to hear from you. I pray everything is well with your family. I’d put up a picture of you but I don’t have one. The one with my mom was taken when we took our three-year vows, remember? Keep in touch.

    Blessings,

    Jim

  5. Randell

    I never became a Catholic, but I did give it serious thought. For me, it was more important to remain a bridge than to be based on one island or another. In my (hopefully soon to be published book), I share about my thoughts of becoming Catholic. But when the Assemblies of God decided to let me stay at the Little Portion and keep my credentials, I took that as God’s way of saying I was fine where I was at.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. I hope my experiences will help you in your journey with God.

    Blessings,

    Jim

  6. Dear Jim,
    Thanks for sharing. I’d like to hear more. I can relate to your stradling — if you don’t mind me calling it that — the Catholic and Pentecostal fence. I was raised Catholic, but with no formation, then thanks to God I was born again and baptized in the Spirit through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in my young 20s. JMT’s music fed me for about 20 years like no other ministry. I sometimes think that if I were the only one he ever ministered to, and if he knew how much God used his music to minister to me, he would have enough joy to last a life time. That may sound exagerated, but really it is not. I can’t express how God ministered to me through his music night after night for years. I have never had contact with him, so maybe you can tell him for me. I always meant to write him a letter, but never did. I myself worked as a music director in the Catholic Church for a living for 8 years, a fruit of John Michael Talbot’s influence on me. I also worked for a diocesan communications office for a few years. But after 20 years in the church, I now attend an Assembly of God church. I haven’t joined. Though it has been 5 years. I miss the Eucharist, the liturgy, the chant, and the contemplative spirituality of Catholicism very much, and I go when I can. I was starving to death from lack of fellowship with like-minded believers in the Catholic Church. I couldn’t survive the deprivation any more. I would guess that I probably share similar feelings to you regarding the divided church. It seems to me Catholicism and Protestantism should be a both/and rather than an either/or proposition. It is sad to me that this sheep has had to take a vacation from the Catholic fold to get fed and to lose the religious spirit. If you are ever interested in talking sometime to share experiences, I would value that.

  7. Jim,
    This afternoon I began searching the web in hopes for some clarity on a bible passage. Perhaps searching the internet isn’t really the correct way to find answers but I was curious on others opinions. The verse that I was searching answers on was Matthew 9:6 in which Jesus states that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins. So here is my deal with it…up until I was a teenager I attended The Assemblies of God church in my community with my family. Unless I just wasn’t paying close enough attention I was always under the impression that the church taught us that the only way to get forgiven was when we asked those we had sinned against to forgive us and if we repented to the Lord through Jesus. I wondered if maybe Jesus wasn’t calling himself the Son of Man or if this literally meant man/woman. After leaving the Assemblies of God Church, I was probably 15, I never joined another church. Just recently I participated in a Catholic wedding for one of my girl friends. I had never been to anything quite like it before. At first I had a great respect for the Catholic church but then a few things bothered me. The big one was the fully stocked bar in the lower level of the church where drinks were served at the wedding reception. The grooms mother ( a member of the church) walking around the church with a beer in her hand, clearly drunk while decorating and the large group of the church’s members who littered the steps out front of the church, beers and smokes in hand after the wedding….like a college frat party. I felt like everyone should have respected the place more than that but maybe I was wrong??? Many of my Catholic friends believe that they can live a party lifestyle and everything will be okay for them because they can go confess to the Father/priest and their sins are forgiven. I never believed this myself and then I came across that verse in Matthew and I questioned my own belief. Now I am wondering, am I missing something? I would like to be a member of some church for the fellowship but I don’t know which way I am leaning. I don’t know if maybe you would have some thoughts on this or maybe understand how I am feeling. I would appreciate your opinion if you have the time.

  8. Heather,

    Regarding the title “Son of Man,” it is first seen in Daniel 7:13-14 and refers to the Messiah. It also point to His place as the Suffering Servant. So, when you read the title “Son of Man,” think of Jesus as the anticipated Messiah, the anointed one who came to take away the sins of the world. it is not referring to Him as a descendant of man/woman, but as Messiah.

    The only way to be forgiven of your sins is to believe that you are a sinner, that Jesus died for your sins and was raised from the dead, to repent of those sins and believe God forgives you on the basis of what Jesus did for you by shedding His blood. The forgiveness you give to others is an attitude and action you show towards others because of your salvation, and is not something you do to achieve or earn your salvation.

    How about Catholics who party? I’ll admit that most Catholics are not as adamant about abstinence from alcohol as your Assemblies of God associates. However, not every Catholic has a party animal attitude toward life. Besides, you can find people in every denomination who go to excess in many areas, not just drinking. Because a small group of people misrepresent the teachings of their church should not condemn the entire church. Furthermore, most of the Catholics I know do NOT believe they can live like the devil during the week because they’ll confess to their priest on Sunday. They know that a commitment to God is a lifestyle, not a “religious show,” and therefor live to please Him in all their ways.

    One of the most difficult things to reconcile in our lives is what we hear people say they believe and what we see them actually do. However, this is not a reflection of the grace, mercy and love of God. He remains true and honorable in spite of the way some people behave — even those who claim He is their Lord. I don’t know what to tell you regarding joining a church. There are many fine congregations out there who teach the full gospel of Christ. However, within those churches you will find all types of people. Remember, every church is full of sinners. If you’re not surprised to see sick people in a hospital, you shouldn’t be surprised to see sinners, hypocrites, party animals, liars, etc. in a church.

    I would suggest that you seek God for who God is, and live for Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. If you focus on what people do in name of God, you will always come away discouraged. But if you focus on who God is and what He has done and is doing in the lives of people, you will encounter the hope and joy that is meant to be found in Him. Pray that God would lead you to a church that endeavors to live for the glory of God. It may take a few visits to different churches, but God knows where you should be.

    I hope this has answered some of your questions.

    Blessings,

    Jim

  9. Hello Brother Jim.. 😀

    I have been following your comments in Ichabod’s Plainview blog and I must really say that the world is blessed to have a Christian like you. Your comments really struck me especailly this one:

    “Christians” who condemn others for not being just like them are the worst kind of people, and far from being like the Christ they claim as their Lord.”

    This was the comment you made on the post on Ichabod’s blog about the God club. Christians here in the Philippines should realize that thought.

    But by the way, I would like to ask if you subscribe to the thought that for us to be saved, we need to be Christians.

    Thanks a lot and God bless. 🙂

  10. Jose,

    I subscribe to the thought that, in order to be saved, we must do three things. 1. We must ACCEPT that we are sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory. Since the wages of sin is death, then our sin keeps us from living in an eternity in God’s holy presence. 2. We must BELIEVE that Jesus died for our sins, since we could not die for our own. His death pays the penalty for our sins. By believing that Jesus died for my sins, I receive the life His resurrection enables me to have. Since He overcame the wages of sin, so can we. 3. I CONFESS my sinful state, then I COMMIT my life to God and ask Him to enable me to live according to His perfect plan. I COMMIT my life to living for God, COMMIT myself to growing as a disciple, and I COMMIT myself to a local body. One cannot call themselves a Christian and not be connected to the Body.

    When these things are in place, then I believe one can call themselves a Christian.

    Blessings,

    Jim

  11. I can understand the attraction of such a community. AOG or Lutheran as I was then, the siren song of God’s action in such a group sings out.
    We moved from the Lutheran parish to an ecumenical (basically Catholic) charismatic christian community of about 1000 people. We lived there for over 6 years. It helped shape our interactiions with a full range of God’s creation.

  12. Dear Jim,
    I am moved by your blog. I hope you remember me from high school. I have thought of you and our friendship often over the years and I am glad to see you are doing well.
    Peace and good thoughts
    Your friend
    Richard

  13. What a blast from the past! That picture brings back so many memories now …………. what a journey. Thank you for remembering me, and including me in your book ………….. my faith and life journey has been quite eventful since Little Portion ……………… now that God has brought you back into my path, I’ll update and fill you in …. good hearing from you! God’s blessings upon you and Barbara. I’ll complete the “permission”, as long as you assure me that when it’s published, I get a “signed” hard copy from you.

  14. Powerful! God’s story of His great work in your life makes me return to your site again to see and sense His wonder.

    Lord Bless you,
    Mary

  15. I read the same book at probably the same time…and at the same time considered becoming a nun, but not as a response.
    The book I found something that became a weight, a something I knew I could never achieve.

  16. I met some Pentecostal monks in India when I was there last year. Young men (as well as nuns) who retain their strongly Pentecostal doctrine but live a life of service, poverty, celibacy and, among other things, they sleep only a few hours a night! Thanks for sharing your story Jim. Peter

  17. It is a difficult calling, but it was mine for four years. However, I ALWAYS slept more than just a few hours! I’ve written a book about those experiences and it will be out in August. I hope it is a blessing for the Kingdom.

    Jim

  18. Jim, my name is Alex and I’m 27 and seriously considering visiting the Little Portion. I’ll be honest, I have not always lived on the straight and narrow, but have always had a strong sense of faith. I constantly have a little voice in my head telling me to give myself completely unto God. My heart and soul tell me that monastic life could be the key to a happy and peaceful existince. I have always wanted to serve God and looked into ministry, but it’s just too much public interaction and i’m a very private man. Am I a zealot, or is this possibly my calling? And if so, what requirements are necessary for monastic vocation?

  19. Alex,
    Part of the reason I went to the Little Portion was because I had to know. I had to know if this was for me. So, I called them, made an appointment to visit, and flew out from California. The rest of the story you can read about in my book!

    I already know you’ve not lived the “straight and narrow.” Nobody has. Everyone at the LP needs a Savior, and you might even find people who are worse sinners than you living there quite happily! Are you a zealot? Could be. Is this possibly you calling? Yes, it could be.

    Here’s what you do. Give them a call and have them send you any materials they have regarding a visit. Tell them what you’ve told me and plan on staying there a week. They’ll get you involved in their prayer, work and worship. You’ll get to know a few people and see how things work. If you still want to join, they may make you come back for a longer visit. Monasteries can be dreams for some people and nightmares for others, so they’re cautious about taking in people who don’t really know what they are getting into. Go and visit, and they’ll tell you all you need to know about the necessities of a monastic vocation.

    Blessings.

  20. Jim,

    Peace and all-good!

    I am a Roman Catholic seminarian here in the Philippines. I am now 27 years of age and already five years of formation for priesthood. I am just glad to read about interactions here. I am knowing myself through you and others. I have also an inclination for monastic life but I am now in an active congregation. May I ask, is this Little Portion an ecumenical monastery? I just simply can’t imagine different Christians in one religious community. But I believe it is quite exciting, isn’t it?

    I am discerning to join the Trappist monks or the Benedictines here in my country. Please help by remembering me in your prayers.

    Thank you.

    One with you in Christ,

    Nikos Emmanuel Maria

  21. Nikos,
    Yes, the Little Portion Hermitage is an ecumenical community. If you would like to read my book, you’ll see the various ways we got along because Jesus was central to our relationship, not Rome or Springfield or London; just Jesus. We didn’t always agree with one another, but we always respected each other out of respect for our Savior. I know there is only one Faith and One Head of the Church, and that is Jesus. There is only one Heaven and there will not be a Catholic section of Heaven and Baptist section and a Presbyterian section. I think it is better we learn that on earth or we may find ourselves a bit uncomfortable when we get there!
    Blessings,
    Jim

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