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Interview with Julia Smead founder of
the Benedictine Community
Dallas-Fort Worth Area, Texas, USA

How to organize a monthly Benedictine
Community in your home or church


***Back to first page of Benedictine Home Gatherings***

First Book to Read (Page 1)

What's an oblate? (Page 2)

Becoming an Oblate (Page 3)

Links to Oblate Resources (Page 4)

Index (Page 5) to: 
Mini Index
Expanded Index

What's New (Page 6)



Oblate Spring:  Thank you Julia for your excellent work in making Benedictine home gatherings more widely known.  Please tell us about yourself and how you started your Benedictine Community.    

JULIA SMEAD:  My name is Julia Smead from the city of Bedford, in the state of Texas, USA. 

First of all, let me explain how the Benedictine Community (BC) began. There was a church about a 45-60 minute drive from me, that used to have monthly gatherings. The priest was an Associate of the abbey in Three Rivers, MI and a friend of mine. He invited me to come. Our gatherings never really took off. He was subsequently called to another parish in the west part of the state, and so another priest tried to take the lead. Eventually, I quit going and then I understand that the group faltered as well. We used to bring a bag dinner and had our services in their oratory. The drive became so difficult due to rush hour traffic, which contributed to my quitting. This is the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

But I wanted to start a group in my part of the Metroplex, and I spoke to a priest who said yes, he was interested, but couldn't do it right then. In the meantime, I became involved in helping to plant a new church in the diocese of Fort Worth. We are learning a lot about lay leadership and offering multiple doors for people to enter church. So finally I was ready to see about starting the BC, but the priest could not, so my rector encouraged to me to lead this as a lay group and not to have a priest involved. So I started it on the most unlikely Saturday, the weekend of Memorial Day. We have met the last Saturday of the month ever since.

Oblate Spring: How do you organize and present an effective monthly session for your Benedictine Community?

JULIA SMEAD: [Note: Julia had a photographer come one month to take pictures throughout the evening at her home.  Pictures of Julia Smead's Benedictine Community home services.

Pictures of the Benedictine Community when it began meeting at Julia Smead's church]

I've learned to keep the date consistent. If I expect others to make it a priority, I must do the same. No changing the dates because something else is going on that weekend. BC comes first and the date is always the last Saturday of the month. By keeping it consistent, it's easier for the members to get it into their rhythm.

Even if we have only three people come, we still have it. I don't cancel our time together on account of a low turnout. That happens, but as a community, we are a community whether there are three or 15.

The one thing that is very difficult for people to assimilate to is the silence. It's also the thing that keeps them coming back. When I hear folks share with others about our group, the silence is what they talk about. We have two blocks of time when we're silent: following Vespers/while we're eating dinner; and after Compline as we enter the Great Silence.

This is our schedule:
  6:00 Gathering and visiting/Information to newcomers
6:30 Vespers -- Notebook materials PDF
7:00 Dinner eaten in silence -- Blessing sheet PDF
8:00 Study and discussion -- Notebook materials PDF
9:00 Compline followed by 5-10 minutes of silent
meditation  -- 
Notebook materials PDF
Depart in silence

I learned early on to allow the 30 minutes of built-in visiting time. This gives us all a chance to visit since many of us haven't seen each other in the last month and it also allows time for latecomers to arrive. I use this time to go over the evening with any first-time visitors so they become more comfortable with what's going on.

Oblate Spring: Your notebook materials are extensive and setting up your home for the gatherings is a big job.  Do you ask the attendees to help?

JULIA SMEAD: I plan the menu and provide the main dish.  There are no paper plates or throwaways. This is an opportunity to do our best to the glory of God. So there's real dishes, wine glasses and tablecloths. Since our group has grown, I've added flowers to the items for them to bring.

There are tasks given:
  I ask others to bring a dish, bread, wine, flowers, whatever.

People are asked to be the steward of each table during the meals. This helps us to learn to give hospitality and to receive it graciously as well. That person will see to the needs of that table, whether it's serving the wine, or getting the dishes from the kitchen to the table and visa versa.

We have servers for the dessert and coffee.

I ask someone to be the Gospel reader for
Vespers. PDF

Someone is tasked with lighting the candles before each service.

We say prayers (Blessing sheet PDF) before and after the meal and we say it standing behind our chair. We wait until everyone is finished eating before starting the Benedictine services.


Oblate Spring: After the meal, what happens?

JULIA SMEAD: We line up outside the oratory prior to the service and process in. When we all are in place, we bow across the room and I signal the start of the service with a chime.

I have our services all typed out in notebooks with their names on the spines. This helps to make everyone comfortable. Since this group is ecumenical, to some this is an unusual service.

While the Benedictine Community met in my home, our group did not chant. I learned early on after trying to have someone teach us Gregorian chant, that the members of OUR group really do not want to sing or chant. (Their abbess was very disappointed).

For the study, I do not expect anyone to have read anything or have any prior knowledge of the Rule of St. Benedict. What I do is read commentaries on the Rule and assemble them from various sources (the
Study Materials PDF), and type them up and make copies for each person. We go around the room and read the commentaries and have plenty to comment on in between.  We've been meeting for almost three years and we're on Chapter 50.

Oblate Spring: You have described how the Benedictine Community began in your home, the schedule for the meetings, and all the excellent notebook materials you prepared for the attendees.

How has the Benedictine Community changed?

JULIA SMEAD:  Our group has evolved.  We kept growing and a couple of years ago, our parish just finished its new building so we now meet at my church and we chant!

We process from the hall while chanting a litany with incense. We’ve even added the Salve Regina with asperges before departing. Our diocesan paper did a story on us.

As a group, we’ve purchased real dinner plates and have commissioned a processional icon to be written.  It’ll be of St. Benedict on one side and a cross on the other.

In September 2009, we hosted a two-day retreat with the abbot and a monk from St. Benedict’s Abbey in Bartonville, IL leading. We had 27 participants! You can view pictures the
Home Groups Page. Click on “Benedictine Community” at the bottom. There are links to audio files in the text.


Oblate Spring: How do the attendees fit into the life of a monastic?

JULIA SMEAD: For me as the only Benedictine oblate in the group, this is great. I get to do my "monastic thing" one day a month AND I have others who are joining me in this effort. I am studying the Rule of St. Benedict (RB) much more intensely than I might alone. My oblation is with a community in Cape Cod. I live in Texas, so I can't get there more than twice a year. There is one Cistercian monastery in Dallas, but other than that, there's no place nearby to go and get my monastic well filled up.

Oblate Spring: What is the potential of the Benedictine Community?

JULIA SMEAD:  Just in writing about this group on the OblateForum, two people have started similar groups - one in IN, and the other is Barb's in CA.

I have a feeling that monastic meetings in homes are an unused practice with potential, but maybe not, maybe gatherings in a community center/church room/hotel conference room are better. In planting our church (Episcopal), we've learned that we need to provide more than one door for people to come to Christ. Some folks are not prone to attend a church, but would go with a friend to someone's house.

This group is ecumenical. I am proud of that. I want to emulate the early church when there were no denominations, so this fits me. I was asked by one gal to come to their dinner and for their worship that evening, she wanted me to "do what we do at Benedictine Community with the silence at the end". Five people from that group joined the BC. I had never previously met any of them. Another person invited her Baptist neighbor to come. She is still with us and is drawn so much to the liturgical life, that she's been attending various Episcopal churches on Sundays. One young father comes while his wife stays home with their kids. This has become "his" thing. The wife is thrilled as he has not gotten involved in their church, but this is where he feels comfortable.

If it was held at a conference room or community center, I wonder if he'd come? Most of the folks in our group are from the area Episcopal churches, but we do have a couple of Roman Catholics. But when we gather, our denominational labels are left outside. When they walk in, they are Benedictine Community.

Oblate Spring: What should BGs be in 10 years?

JULIA SMEAD: I'll leave that to the Holy Spirit.

Oblate Spring: What should monasteries do now?

JULIA SMEAD: As in much of my reading about the monastic life attests, the vowed celibate life has been dwindling in numbers. BUT, the Oblates/Associates/Third-orders have grown. There will always be a need for monasteries as that is a touchstone for people like me. We can go there to recapture our monastic souls and come out refreshed and better able to embrace the secular world we live in.

Anyone interested in experiencing the Benedictine Community in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, Texas, USA, is welcome to join this ad hoc community for its monthly gathering. Send your RSVP to Julia Smead at: