Lynne Samways Hiltz first visited the Anglican convent of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine (SSJD) after she moved to Toronto from Nova Scotia when her husband, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, was elected as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada in 2007. “I walked through the doors and I thought, ‘Hmm, this is a really calm, very beautiful kind of haven,'” she recalled.
The peaceful atmosphere appealed to her so much that she began volunteering there, and worked in the convent’s guesthouse, where people from outside the SSJD can go for meetings or stay for retreats. When a position in the fundraising department opened up about three years ago, she was hired as the fundraising assistant, but still she felt called to another role with the SSJD. Last fall, in September, she was received into the SSJD as an oblate.
“I just felt there was something more for me involved in the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine,” she told the Anglican Journal. Of the roles available to people who do not want to live in the monastic community as the sisters do, she felt most called to be an oblate. Becoming an oblate is a self-offering to a life of prayer and service, she explained, adding that it means she walks in a partnership with the sisters.
There is a required period of discernment before anyone takes the step of becoming an oblate. Samways Hiltz said it is usually one to two years, but in her case, it was three. “I used to joke I was going to write the Oblates for Dummies handbook,” she said, with her typical self-deprecating humour, but more seriously, she acknowledged that the journey is different for everyone.
Samways Hiltz said that her commitment to prayer and service is really an extension of her life before becoming an oblate. “I can remember from a little girl being that kind of a person, wanting to help…but also saying prayers…They may not have been very sophisticated, but they certainly were prayers.”
Those traits have stayed with her throughout her life, she said, but one of the challenging aspects of becoming an oblate for her is to make both prayer and service more intentional, she said.
“The optimum for me would be to have a daily regime of prayer. I sometimes fall down in that regard,” she said. “I’m one of those people that kind of prays whenever I’m doing anything.”
And since oblates live out in the world and not in the convent, they are called to serve their own community, which could be a church community, neighbourhood or city, she explained.
When asked what she finds more rewarding about being an oblate with SSJD, she said that she has found that her commitment to prayer and service enriches her own spiritual life. Each oblate is asked to make an individual rule of life, she explained. “You aren’t supposed to make it so challenging that you can’t attain it or live it, but I throw a few little things in there that will challenge me to be the kind of person that I do want to be, and if I can actually do some of those things, I do…feel more fulfilled,” she said.
“I feel that I am living out more of a calling in the world to be a little bit more of an activist…or somebody that can help change some of the injustices in the world,” Hiltz said, though she quickly added that her efforts to fight injustice are small. “I’m always on the lookout for things that I might do, even if it is just writing letters or talking to somebody who might not have known about something that was going on,” she said. Last year, she attended a rally in support of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign calling for the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram to release kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. She said she has long felt a calling to work for the preservation of the natural environment. When she lived in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, she worked with a group of women to start up a recycling depot in the town, and went to schools to speak with school children about the importance of the issue. “Preservation of the earth is one of the big ones for me,” she said.
Becoming part of the SSJD is just one of many ways of “heeding the call of God,” she said. “For me it was the peacefulness…It is a refuge. I think many people are looking for that in their lives.”