For the first time since the Canadian chapter of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) joined its American counterpart in 1984, a Canadian will serve as the monastic order’s brother superior, following the election of Br. James Koester at the beginning of March.
Speaking to the Anglican Journal in an interview following the election, Koester, a native of Regina, Sask., said he found the new role “slightly daunting,” but was excited about the possibilities involved.
“This is a transitional period for monastic communities,” he explained. “As the church enters this increasingly post-Christian North American culture, monastic communities…have a really important role to play, because we, I think, can become monk-missionaries once again.”
Koester said his focus as brother superior for the SSJE, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., will be on working to increase the number of monastic vocations and increasing awareness of the monastic option among Anglicans.
“It is important for people to know that a monastic vocation is a viable option in the life of the church,” he said. “If people want to give themselves over completely for the sake of the gospel, a monastic vocation is one way of doing that.”
Colin Johnson, archbishop of the dioceses of Toronto and Moosonee and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, said Koester is an “excellent choice” for the position.
“He is gifted at asking those questions that people need to be asked to prompt them in new directions and new thoughts about their relationship with God, and their relationship with each other and the world,” said Johnson, who has known Koester since they were students at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College more than 30 years ago.
Koester himself became involved with the society as a university student in Peterborough, Ont., in the early 1980s through its house in Bracebridge, Ont. (now closed), after seeing an advertisement for the order in the Canadian Churchman (predecessor to the Anglican Journal).
But although the society no longer has any chapter houses in Canada, Koester noted that the order remains active throughout Canada, both through its presence at clergy and lay leadership retreats in Canada and by hosting Canadian Anglicans at its monastery in Cambridge.
The SSJE, a monastic community of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, also holds money in trust for ministry in Canada, Johnson said.
Ordained a priest in the diocese of British Columbia in 1985, he was professed as a brother of the SSJE in 1992, and since then has served as brother-in-charge of the society’s Emery House, an SSJE monastery in rural Massachusetts, and as deputy superior.
He succeeds Br. Geoffrey Tristram SSJE, who served as superior for six years.