Father Paul Wessinger, SSJE

One of the things that the monks of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist do which might (but shouldn’t) seem strange to the average Protestant is that they live a life which is formed around prayer, worship, and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Their normal worship-day looks something like this:

6 am Morning Prayer
7:45 am Holy Communion
12:30 Noonday Prayer
6 pm Evening Prayer
9 pm Compline

Between these times of worship they read, write, teach, work in hospitals, etc., and do the many things that one must do to live from day to day. The life of a monk is very full.

While at the Monastery I join the monks in their daily cycle of worship and prayer. I rise at about 5 am and go to the chapel to begin the day with morning prayer. It is wonderful to be able to take part in a worship service without having to lead, preach, or even read the Bible. It was wonderful to receive Holy Communion every day, sing the psalms, and pray without having to worry about anything. It is, truly, a peaceful, prayerful experience.

While in Boston this month I prayed with the monks during their normal times of daily worship, and spent quite a lot of time in reading, reflection, and private prayer. I also spent some time in “spiritual direction” with Father Paul Wessinger.

Father Paul is now around 90 years of age, but he is by no means in retirement. I met him at St. John’s House in Durham, and within a year he had become my spiritual director and Father Confessor (the priest with whom, each year, I make my formal confession of sin to God). Paul is a brilliant, internationally known Spiritual Director, eccumenist, and theologian; he is also a wonderful preacher, teacher, and friend. His years as the Superior of the American Congregation of the Society gave him a voice which is still respected throughout the United States and, indeed, around the world. His insights on the deep spiritual intricacies of the Christian life are founded in a powerful love of the Holy Scriptures, a personal devotion to the pastoral ministry, and a deep and abiding love for all humanity. Especially touching and noteworthy is his personal ministry of witness, direction, and care for those who are suffering from AIDS. His proclamation of Christ’s love and peace for those with AIDS, and for those who care for them, was particularly meaningful for me during my time in the Hospital Chaplaincy. His personal impact upon my life and my ministry has been powerful and deep, and I thank God for the presence of Father Paul during my seminary years. When I am in Boston, I take the opportunity to talk with him about the many difficulties and demoralizing aspects of the pastoral ministry--and about how these problems impact my personal spiritual walk. Every ordained minister of the Gospel really should have a Spiritual Director like Father Paul, and I have been wonderfully blessed by knowing him.

Father Paul has always been able to point me to the Bible when I have been in need of a word from God, and once his parting words to me were: “Read Psalm 16 . . . for yourself, and for your people.” I did, and what struck me the most were the following verses:

O LORD, you are my portion and my cup;
it is you who uphold my lot.
My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I believe that God was saying, through Father Paul, that we do, indeed, “have a goodly heritage,” and its name is The United Methodist Church. Sure, there are problems in our denomination, but the simple truth is that we are where God has called us to be. Truly, even with all of our problems, this is a pleasant land.

The Reverend Father Paul Wessinger, SSJE
Portrate by Ruth Lieberherr

© 2000, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
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