The process of joining the Servants of the Word has various stages, and lasts approximately 7 years. First one becomes an affiliate, often without living in a Servants of the Word house. During that time one simply gets to know the brothers. Eventually one moves in with them, in one of their houses (see Contact Us). A major next step follows when one enters formation, thus expressing willingness to actually learn what our life entails and begin to live according to our rule of life. This is done in the region where one comes from (see Meet The Brothers) initially, followed by two years in our international formation house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After that period of formation a brother can make his first full (temporary) commitment, lasting for a year. After having renewed that commitment at least once, he can make his lifelong commitment. (for more information, see Discernment Process)
The final commitment to join the Servants of the Word is called lifelong, because it is intended as a permanent commitment just like marriage. While not technically vows, our commitments are solemn, which explains why we take so long to arrive at such a step. The discernment process involves the brother himself, and all the other lifelong brothers since they commit themselves to him in return. We recognize that in exceptional circumstances a brother may no longer be able to live out his obligations, in which case he can be released from his commitment. And there will be cases when men choose to leave, whether their brothers agree with them or not.
The Servants of the Word is an ecumenical brotherhood (see Shared Faith), with brothers coming from most mainline Christian churches. The individual brothers remain committed to the churches they belong to, and we as a brotherhood are committed to supporting each member in his church commitments. The brotherhood as a whole is not under any church authority, but maintains strong ties with all the relevant church authorities.
Like most families, the Servants of the Word hold their finances in common. So whether a brother works in a secular occupation, serves in full-time Christian ministry and draws a sacrificial salary or whether he receives no salary whatsoever, we as a brotherhood cover his expenses, and he in turn puts into our common purse whatever income, gifts, etc. he receives.
The brotherhood is self-sustaining, i.e. we pay for our own life and expenses from the income our brothers make. Whatever fundraising we do (see Supporting Us) goes toward the formation and mission of the Servants of the Word.
When a man first becomes an affiliate, he enters no financial obligations but retains full responsibility for his finances. Even when he first moves into a house of the brotherhood, he is only expected to “earn his keep,” in other words his work or service needs to cover his expenses. Once he enters formation, he becomes an “in-common” brother, i.e. his income and expenses are administered jointly by all the brothers.
We live simply and ultimately rely on God to provide for our needs. Good stewardship requires that all brothers receive health insurance, and provisions for retirement are made so that beyond a certain age a brother no longer needs to generate income, even if he continues to work.
The life of the brotherhood is governed by a rule, called the Covenant of the Servants of the Word. It lays down our call and mission, our way of life, the principles of our government and stipulates the commitments that we make. Each of our houses is under the leadership of the local community where it is located, and the brotherhood as a whole is under the government of The Sword of the Spirit (see Leadership & Affiliations).
The main rhythm of our yearly life is governed by the Christian seasons. Each house observes Advent, Christmas, the 40 days of Lent and the Easter season, and our pattern of life will vary slightly according to each season. We all go on retreat right around Christmas time, and different brothers take vacation at different times of the year. The other significant factor in our year are the academic calendars of the universities where we serve since we try to organize our missionary activities around the students’ availability.
We currently have houses in the following countries: England, Northern Ireland, Philippines, Mexico, Costa Rica and the United States. (see Meet the Brothers)
We currently have 134 brothers involved, with 53 having made a lifelong commitment.
Part of the discernment process a young man engages in is to see whether the brotherhood should become his permanent home, his “family”. Once he has made a life-long commitment to the Servants of the Word, his brothers are the main people caring for him in life and death. His family remains his family, but his ability to be part of family life changes, just as it does for children once they marry. How much he can continue to be part of the life of his family depends on many factors, such as proximity, availability and need.
We are a missionary brotherhood and as such make ourselves available to go wherever we are most needed. As a consequence each one of us can potentially end up anywhere in the world. Depending on his work and the proximity to his family he would go home anywhere from every one to four years.
Our brothers have all been trained in some field of study or occupation and most of them hold college degrees. What career track they pursue depends on many factors, such as their gifts, the needs of the brotherhood and its mission, including our overall financial picture, and the available positions in a particular location. Many of us have gone back and forth between secular occupations and full-time Christian work. What we do and where we do it is always decided together as a brotherhood, not simply by the brother in question.
Our aim is to serve the Lord as long as we can, with the strength and gifts at our disposal. How long that is depends on many factors, such as our health and the needs at a particular moment. But we do have a retirement fund which means that brothers don’t have to earn an income beyond a certain age.
Given their missionary lifestyle brothers in the Servants of the Word can normally not be the primary care-giver for their parents in sickness or old age. How much he can and should do for them depends on many factors, such as proximity and availability of others, such as siblings, to shoulder the load. But brothers regularly play significant roles in the care of their parents, such as being executors of their will, holding medical power of attorney or helping to sort out family issues and challenges.