If you come to The Abbey of the Genesee seeking to worship God you have come to the right place. There are services around the clock starting with Vigils at 2:25am. Lauds is at 6am, Sext at 11:15am, Vespers at 4:30pm, and Compline at 6:40pm. Surely if you want to worship God then one of these times will fit your busy schedule. These are the services that are open to the public at this monastery in Piffard, New York, and Father Jerome told me that the monks have a couple of other worship times as well.
And if you like your services to be short, you have also come to the right place. Most are less than a half hour except for those which are combined with a Mass (with Holy Communion).
And if you are tired of that so-called contemporary praise music with those electric guitars and much too happy singers, you’ll find none of that at the Abbey.
And those long and boring sermons (or even worse – those in which the preacher tells you all those personal stories) won’t be found at the Abbey of the Genesee.
But if you long for predictability and order and formality and simplicity, you should be thrilled. And if walking into a quiet church in which no one speaks to each other or whispers in the pews and people stand when they are supposed to and bow when they are supposed to and don’t leave until they are supposed to and pray the Lord’s Prayer every single time, then you need to come here. God is respected and revered here.
The major portion of each worship experience is the chanting (substitute the word “singing” if “chanting” scares you) of the Psalms – usually three per service. You can chant along with the monks – the words are contained in a large hymnbook (a beautiful book all by itself) that lays in front of the choir stalls you can sit in. No notes, just the words, you’ll get the hang of it. Just don’t be in a hurry. I believe that the monks chant every psalm every week. And the order is set – no last minute bulletin changes for these guys. Worship bulletin – who needs them? No announcements either. The monks also sing a song; we all sing praises to the Trinity a few times and bow as we do it; and a passage of scripture is always read. Bells toll to begin worship and to end it, and there are plenty of moments for silence.
You wouldn’t use the words “praise” or “contemporary” or “traditional” to describe these round-the-clock 24/7/365 services. They are not part of a category that most of us are familiar with. They are not the latest thing to come to a local church near you. You might even find them a bit strange.
But the robe-wearing monks have been worshipping God this way for a long time. The basic outline for what they do is contained in “The Rule of St. Benedict” written about 1500 years ago. Talk about that “Old Time Religion.”
As a local church pastor who has to come up with something new (at least sermon wise) every week, the simplicity and predictability and order of it all speaks to be on a deep level. I feel relieved just walking in the door. And our music director might feel the same way. Every when I am not at a monastery, I will often think about monks chanting the psalms – there must be some monks somewhere in the world lifting up those psalms every minute of every day, every day of the week, every week of the year. Even if I am not in the room with them, I know they are there. Even if the language they speak is not English, I can hear them. And I am grateful for their constant and abiding and faithful witness.
This type of worship is not for everybody, and I need other worship styles as well. I enjoy a high energy worship experience. But I also need these simple monastic services – these low tech, counter cultural, slow moving opportunities in which it is clear that we are not trying to impress God or anyone else with our performances or with our fervor. We are content, instead, to sing simply the words from the ancient songbook of our faith (the Psalms). We enter the worship space quietly and leave it in the same way. It may look like we haven’t been touched or changed by it all, but we have.
I am hungry for God, starving for God, and my soul is fed through monastic worship. It isn’t the only meal I need, but I require it as part of my spiritual diet. Are you starving for God? Do you go from church to church or experience to experience just hoping for a scrap of spiritual bread? Something that will sustain you? Where and how is your soul fed?