Northern Michigan priest joins new Benedictine community

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Apr 8, 2022
David Carlisle

The Rev. David Carlisle is a junior in the new Benedictine community of St. James the Just in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Photo: Steve Pelto

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. David Carlisle wears a lot of hats – husband, father of two boys, holder of a Ph.D., priest and missioner in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. And since last fall, he has added “junior” in a new form of Benedictine community that he is helping to introduce in his diocese.

He is connected to the Canon Communities of St. Benedict, which is open to active members of The Episcopal Church, with the approval of the person’s rector and bishop. Carlisle describes this as a “new monasticism,” where after a period of preparation people live with their families and keep their jobs but undertake a rigorous life of prayer. Last October he took his initial vows, was installed as a novice and is now a junior.

He also is working to establish a new canon community in Northern Michigan named St. James the Just, where others in the diocese can join what he calls “a school for God’s service.”

Carlisle recently spoke with Episcopal News Service about this new Benedictine community, how it works and what drew him to it. The ENS interview with him has been condensed and edited into the Q&A below.

ENS: What drew you to monasticism?

David Carlisle

David Carlisle. Photo: Steve Pelto

Carlisle: I was raised as a spiritual but not religious person and was baptized as an adult and confirmed into The Episcopal Church. But when I was in college, traveling in Greece, I encountered the Orthodox Church and more particularly Orthodox monasticism and was drawn to that. But through a discernment process, I found my way to The Episcopal Church. I also felt a call to ordained life as well as a call to married life and then to be a parent. None of those things felt wrong, just that there was a missing piece. It’s really about how God is calling me to live out my purpose in the world.

ENS: How do you juggle all these things? Do you experience logistical constraints with your responsibility to your family?

Carlisle: Yes, all the time. But it’s really the same as any pair of vocational commitments. Even people who don’t have children but are married and have careers may experience that same sense of tug between the two. The work for me has been sorting out in my head and my heart what commitments are really necessary, so one vocation doesn’t jeopardize the other.

ENS: Can you say more about the Canon Communities of St. Benedict and how members participate in that?

Carlisle: Members live in their own homes and have their own jobs but take the Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life. We are under the obligation to pray the Daily Office and receive the Eucharist regularly, and to participate in meetings of the local community chapter. We also are connected to a worshipping community.

ENS: How long does it take to become a member?

Carlisle:  It can be a long discernment process. There’s at least 6 months for postulants, a 1-year novitiate, and then simple vows are for a 3-year period, and that can be repeated up to three times. So it could be up to nine years before you make your life profession, if you decide to do that. So far I’m the only one who has taken vows with the Community of St. James the Just. We’re sort of in the church planting phase right now.

ENS: Are members called Brother and Sister, as in religious orders?

Carlisle: We do use Brother and Sister. So far we don’t have any members who are non-binary, but we are exploring other titles, since we are LGBTQ-affirming. So we’re in conversation with non-binary people about what might be an appropriate, equivalent title. But for me, my preference is just David.

UP Wild Church meets at various locations around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Photo: Lanni Lantto

ENS: With what worshipping community is St. James the Just connected?

Carlisle: We are rooted in an unusual, exciting community, U.P. Wild Church, a community without a building, meeting outdoors even in the very cold weather up here. Part of their focus is caring for the environment and the stewardship of creation. I think there’s a kind of resonance between the uniqueness of that community and the uniqueness of the canon community that we are undertaking. It all seems new and unique, but it’s really a very ancient understanding of the purpose of a community, which is caring not only for ourselves and other but for the whole ecosystem.

ENS: What do you think this kind of religious community offers to the church and even those outside the church?

Carlisle: Some people think of religious communities as a relic, but the people I’ve talked to have been very positive and interested in seeing if this is for them. For me, being part of a Benedictine community is looking at what leads to human flourishing, human well-being and human happiness. I like what Sister Joan Chittister writes about her more traditional form of Benedictine community – ‘We are to bear witness to the world that strangers can live together in love.’

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.