Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Passion for Intercessory Prayer: The Historic Vocation of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Passion for Intercessory Prayer: The Historic Vocation of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross

Article excerpt

In March of 2014 over 150 women gathered to participate in a conference titled "Anglican Women at Prayer: Weaving Our Bonds of Affection." A central planner and key sponsor for this event was a little known yet historic organization for women: the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross (hereafter SCHC). That SCHC, an organization over 125 years old, was the perfect contemporary animator for this event would not surprise those few who know and value its vocation. Yet in the worldwide Anglican Communion, as in the Episcopal Church, it is also not surprising that so little is known, let alone appreciated, about SCHC. For much of its past SCHC has pursued an individual and collective ethic of not personally sharing or publicly disclosing information about its daily practices and vocation. The primary exception has been conferences open to the public which are typically held at Adelynrood, its home base and conference center in Byfield, Massachusetts. Additionally, Episcopal Church historians and church leaders have tended to ignore the achievements of devout women, particularly lay women. Indeed, the significance of lay women s prayer lives and religious vocations has, with few exceptions, generally been discounted by Episcopal historians.1 Only recently has this become a topic of scholarly attention and then often as a prelude to the ordination of women.

In this brief article I will argue that the twenty-first century SCHC is aptly positioned by its history, structure, lived theology, and most of all by its particular charism for intercessory prayer to play an encouraging and inspiring role in connecting Anglican women at prayer. Could it be that SCHC is now called to share its gifts beyond the Companions and other conference participants? Stepping up to pursue international and other partners would lead SCHC to risk expanding its public face and function. Yet, as this brief history will note, SCHC has previously taken risks and embraced change. Whatever future SCHC chooses to engage, the impact of its vocation and its members' contributions to American religious history deserve a more valued reception. What's more, if the Episcopal Church and other provinces in the Anglican Communion wish to foster both lay and ordained women's leadership, SCHC's history presents theological, practical, and vocational paradigms that could strengthen the participation of women and their allies from the ground up.

Intercession: "The Greatest Power on Earth "

In 1890 Emily Malbone Morgan wrote in her annual report to members of a newly founded and steadily growing Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, "Let us realize that the greatest power on earth is ours through the precious ministry of intercession."2 Morgan (1862-1937) was a lifelong Episcopalian and the daughter of a prosperous New England merchant. Early in her life she displayed a strong religious conscience and the desire to pursue a simple Christian lifestyle. In her early twenties she had founded and funded, out of her own resources, vacation cottages in the Northeast for urban working women. By 1884 she was also the leading founder of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. Initially SCHC was organized to provide spiritual support and a shared opportunity for outreach through intercessory prayer for Morgan's bedridden friend, Adelyn Howard. Joanna B. Gillespie, herself a Companion and an energetic contemporary historian and chronicler of SCHC, has written that from the beginning of the new Society "intercessory prayer was both its cause and function-indeed, its calling."3

In the decades that followed, Morgan and other friends sought to incorporate new members into SCHC. The numbers of Companions grew steadily from seven members to 143 members in 1897, then to 252 members in 1908. By the 1960s there were five hundred members, and currently there are eight hundred.4 The fact that SCHC burst on the scene with sustained growth toward the end of the nineteenth centuiy was not usual. …

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