I experienced a ‘warming of the heart’

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By 
 on January 1, 2015

Brother Reginald Crenshaw, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross, is an honorary pastoral assistant at St. Paul the Apostle, Rexdale, and a member of the diocese’s Supporting Congregations Volunteers. He lives at the OHC’s priory house in Toronto.

At St. Paul’s, I’m responsible for sacramental preparation, especially baptism and confirmation, and preach every other Sunday. I’m in charge of pastoral care and the church’s Christian formation program for adults. In that capacity, I conduct Bible studies, reading groups, and twice yearly parish Quiet Days. My ministry with the diocese includes being an NCD (Natural Church Development) coach, Appreciative Inquiry facilitator and the Parish Selection consultant. I also do consulting – for example, conflict intervention – for the College of Bishops. The things that interest me the most are those activities that involve teaching and people learning new and creative ways of understanding their faith and connecting their spirituality to action for the betterment of the whole community.

The first time I came to Toronto was in 1982, as part of my novitiate experience in a branch house of the Order. At that time, the Order was responsible for St. Matthias, Bellwoods, and I assisted there on Sundays. But my real work was as director of STOP 103, a food bank program founded by Graham Russell, who was the incumbent at St. Stephen in-the-Fields. The program has evolved into The Stop, now the largest privately funded food advocacy and health agency in the city. I feel honored to have been part of a program begun by a parish of this diocese, a program that has become such an important advocacy resource in Toronto. Brothers of the Order served as the first three directors of it. I returned to Toronto in 2008 at the request of my Superior, to be part of the rebuilding of our Priory, and I have been here ever since.

I was born in Los Angeles into a devout Roman Catholic family. I was educated in Catholic schools, first by the De La Salle Christian Brothers in high school and in my undergraduate years, and then with the Jesuits at the University of San Francisco, where I did graduate studies. My doctorate, which is from Columbia University in New York, is my only degree from a non- Catholic institution. My parents, especially my mother, played an important role in my life. She taught, by word and example, how to love, how to stand up for your convictions, a strong work ethic and integrity. Several Christian Brothers in high school and college were particularly important. They imparted to me a love of learning and scholarship, and by their life and commitment that teaching and learning is an important and significant activity for evangelism. Their life and witness was the seed for the beginning of my vocation as a religious teaching brother.

I joined the Order of the Holy Cross because it is the container in which my journey with and to God is most complete. I had reached a point in my life, in 1979, where a significant change was needed in the working document that I call my life. I experienced what can only be described as a Wesleyan “warming of the heart” that turned my world upside down. I decided at that time to revisit the seed of religious life that had been planted when I was a small boy in grade school, and which I had abandoned.

I have spent a majority of my life in the Order living and working in urban areas, particularly in the Episcopal dioceses of New York and Chicago. I taught in Catholic schools in New York and was a professor at New York Theological Seminary, teaching in the MDiv program and the certificate program for church workers and ministers from a variety of denominations. In Chicago, I was on the diocesan staff, doing many of the things I am now doing in Toronto.

The most important ministry I have had in the OHC was being the Novice Master for the Order in North America, where I had the opportunity help create and nurture future members of the Order. This was probably the most growth-producing period of my life in the Order. I am currently a member of the Council of the Order. This is my fourth term in that capacity.

The best part of being a monk is that I’m still growing and becoming more conscious as a human being. The monastic life promotes this – but it is also the most difficult part. On occasion, I would like to keep things as they are. But I realize, as both St. Benedict and our Father Founder reminds us, that our salvation depends on the constant openness to life and new possibilities. What I struggle with is giving up control. In the past, I have wanted to control my progress, but what I’ve learned in so many ways as I become older and maybe a little wiser is that God is in charge. What relief!!

The Diocese of Toronto is very large and varied. There are places of health and places not so healthy. There is life and vitality here; there are also places of decline and death. There is good, creative, leadership, both lay and ordained. There are places struggling to survive and not sure how to do that. And what is sad is that some of these places are resistant to resources that might help them to live again. But I have a very optimistic view for the future of this diocese. The leadership, both lay and ordained, is outstanding, and it is their willingness to risk and be Christ’s eyes, ears and feet that gives me hope for the life, vitality and future of this diocese.

I would like my future to include teaching, at least parttime. I miss that. I hope to do some writing. There is a particular chapter of my dissertation that I am working on that I would like to develop into a book. I’ve just graduated from the Haden Institute in Spiritual Direction. While I’ve been doing spiritual direction for 20 years now, the training and learning from that two-year program has been life enhancing and growthproducing. I want to develop and devote more time to this ministry in the future.

In my top five passages from scripture is this passage from Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” It underscores a philosophy and theology of mission that I find appealing yet challenging. It invites one to openness and fresh possibilities for learning and living and being. It takes God out of the temple and into the wilderness, into the desert, where God is in control.

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