On Thursday, July 14, 2022 we officially welcomed Shingai Chigwedere and Paula Danforth as Candidates with our congregation, the Dominican Sisters of Peace. What a joy it has been to accompany these women as they discerned their call to religious life. As a Vocation Director, I walked with them as they visited us, asked questions, prayed with us, played with us, and as they and we sat in quiet contemplation with God as their discernment unfolded. It was with each movement of the Spirit that the call became clearer until each was able to say, “Yes” to God’s invitation. The Welcoming Ceremony was the first official step as they enter into formation for religious life. The ritual begins with the women knocking on the door and asking to be admitted. The door is opened and they are greeted by the Prioress who presents them with a lit candle – which signifies the light of Christ that they received at baptism.
Then, we began our Evening Prayer as we always do, and sang our opening hymn, The Summons by John Bell . . . Take a moment – okay, 4 minutes – to listen to the song before continuing to read.
What did you hear? How did it touch you?
This song touches me deeply and reminds me of my own entrance into community more than 30 years ago. As I prepared a short reflection to share during the ceremony, I found that song a perfect framework for my comments. I would like to share it with you here (in a slightly modified form). Please note that the words in bold were sung.
Will you come and follow me . . . Can you hear the echo of this call?
Will you come and follow me . . . This call from the beloved one – from God
Will you come and follow me . . . sings God to you Paula and to you Shingai –
To hear – to listen – to follow in faith takes a lot of courage and patience and perseverance – are you ready?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Hmmm, will you?
Each of us, has heard this invitation –
To come and follow God
And in some manner has answered the call –
To religious life, to marriage, to lay ministry, to the diaconate, or to parenthood, and each day – in word or action, we have to say YES once again to the Beloved who beckons us –
Will you come and follow me . . .
And so here we are –
You have heard the invitation – the summons
You have risked the hostile stare – should your life attract or scare
You have stepped forward with a tentative Yes.
And you have sought –
Sought your beloved and where your beloved was calling you.
For each of YOU (all of you) – that call and response took different paths.
For Shingai –
Growing in the faith as a young woman as your family answered the call to diplomatic service and then as you chose to study in the US and to stay and establish yourself as a professional woman –
God spoke to you through the women & men you met in college and then later as you attended retreats and found yourself a part of a faith community that welcomed you and cared for you when you needed support.
God continued to call you in prayer – through the Psalm we just prayed – Psalm 139 as you were reminded that – that God already knew you – your ways were familiar to God –
And your Beloved continued to call and you answered by studying theology and choosing to work for the Church and yet – God called you further and further closer to his heart.
Then, summoning the courage that only God can give – you knocked on the door of the Dominican Sisters of Peace motherhouse in Kentucky in the fall of 2019 and your journey led you to this day and time – as you once again knock.
Will you come and follow me . . . will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around….
And Paula –
Growing up in New York & Vermont – you found God in the beauty of creation – in the animals of the woods and your back yard and in the Church where you too grew in your faith.
God continued to accompany you and led you on the path of higher education & then marriage and family, when your daughter, Janelle entered your life.
As you gazed upon your daughter, you began to comprehend the love God has for each one of us. A love that grew stronger as you beheld the wonder of this beautiful child of God you were given to nourish and care for.
You shared your faith with Janelle and in time that seed of faith that had been planted deep within your heart began to flourish and you grew deeper in your faith.
Then God called you into a deeper relationship through prayer, study of the scriptures and volunteer ministry in your church and community.
Your journey brought you to the Dominican Retreat House in Niskayuna, where you knocked on the door and entered for retreat after retreat, for dream group, for spiritual direction, for volunteering, and then . . .
God sang to your heart . . .”Will you leave yourself behind, if I but call your name? …
And so, God has summoned you both.
You have sought.
You have knocked,
And it has been opened to you.
And we welcome you in as God continues to sing to you,
And we sing together:
Lord, your summons echoes true,
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
Welcome to the family Paula and Shingai.
As you continue to answer God’s call, may you find this time of learning what it is to be a Dominican to be one of great blessing, new growth, and great freedom as you grow into the fullness of who you are called to be.
If God is calling you to something more, we invite you to take the first step and contact one of us to start the conversation or attend our upcoming Come & See Retreat, September 23 – 25 in Akron, Ohio.