For nine weeks, beginning last May, fifteen men lived together in two houses in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the traditional “summer household.” Will Cannon, Mission Leader of UCO Ann Arbor, lived with those brothers and supervised two other Servants of the Word affiliates in their leadership of the house.
Some of us remember our own time in “summer household.” But maybe you can explain what it is for those who have missed out on this experience?
We invite students to take a whole summer as something of a discipleship retreat, as an opportunity to grow in following Christ and in serving others. So even though the men all work or take classes during that time, we approach it as an intense living experience, which includes common meals, daily prayer times, evening activities and weekends away. This year fourteen men took the plunge and signed up for it.
Nine weeks feels like an awful long time? Couldn’t you pack all the teaching in just a long teaching week?
The whole point is that we don’t simply want to impart information, but build habits into these men’s lives which will remain with them even after summer household—habits of prayer, service, common life. And building a habit takes a long time. So we design an intense formative environment which, we hope, changes the participants.
And how well does that work?
We had quite a variety of men living with us, some quite young, some seniors ready to graduate. As you journey together you invariably discover areas in yourself where you are weak: lack of personal discipline, areas of sin, unhelpful patterns of behavior. You are then confronted with the choice of either trying to handle this on your own or to really lean into the grace of God which is so readily available in such a retreat environment.
We had some men make significant life decisions, such as postponing military service or serving as missionaries for a while before pursuing their careers, and that is always very upbuilding to see.
Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest who has written extensively about the importance of rites of passage, speaks of five truths you need to realize in order to truly become a man—life is hard, you are not that important, your life is not about you, you are not in control, you are going to die. Do you feel like summer household is helping men come to such realizations?
While summer household is not directly designed as a rite of passage, I do think some of these lessons get learned. Keeping a disciplined schedule is hard. Because we keep a common life, you are encouraged to submit your preferences to those of the group and so acknowledge that life is not all about you. And the very essence of being a disciple is the realization that you are not in charge of your life, but the Lord himself is. In that sense summer household does help you become more of a man.
Any particular highpoints of the time?
We decided to end our time by participating in a “Tough Mudder” race in Minnesota. This required regular 6:30am training, quite a discipline in itself. And the race itself is designed as a team event, so you need to help each other scale walls, make it through pools of mud and the like. All that leads to a profound sense of comradery and team work.