Community of Hope: Training for Service Based on Benedictine Spirituality

Community of Hope is a 14-week program that trains lay people for various service ministries within churches and in communities. Community of Hope (COHI) is based on Benedictine spirituality and was created by an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Dr. Helen ApLogo CoHpelberg. Key parts of Benedictine spirituality are service to others, listening with our hearts, connection and building community, and being grounded in who we are with no pretense or sense of inferiority.

Community of Hope nurtures God’s call to each of us. It guides individuals to cultivate and cherish their own spiritual gifts for service. COHI is more than a pastoral care ministry: It is about our own spiritual formation, service, and outreach. The training helps to equip participants to join God’s work in the world. The COHI experience builds community and develops skills and capacities for spiritually centered lay service.

Each participant is encouraged to make the COHI experience a journey into wholeness, to use the training to explore a “Rule of Life,” to practice sacred silence, Christian meditation, compassionate listening, and to develop a ministerial and service identity within the context of Benedictine spirituality.

The Community of Hope model can be applied in a variety of settings, including outreach to the community, the homebound, nursing homes, hospices, retirement communities, prisons, hospitals and rehabilitation centers, women’s ministries, youth and children’s ministries, outreach to the homeless and underserved, and in support of mission trips and community centers. It is active in large and small congregations as well as rural communities, many of whom form cluster groups for training and ongoing support.

Since its founding in 1995 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston, Texas, COHI has grown into an international movement. For more about COHI, including information about starting a Community of Hope ministry, go to the Community of Hope International (COHI) website This training is not limited to Episcopalians, but is open to and enriched by the participation of persons from many faith traditions.

Adapted from materials from St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Alpharetta, Georgia (, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (, and the website of COHI


Nancy Middleton, 82, Ski Instructor at Steamboat Springs, Colorado

By Jane Gilgun

A ski instructor in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 82 year-old Nancy Middleton has no plans to retire. The thought never crosses her mind. She’s having too much fun. “Stay in good health and be grateful” is Nancy’s motto.

Nancy first strapped on skis when she was 13 years old, 68 years ago, at Little Switzerland, located outside of Milwaukee, where she grew up. The area has many small hills but no mountains. She loved being physical and being outside in the cold weather. Early on, she began to give lessons to pay for her own lessons. A turning point was a trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1947 through her high school. “The trip gave me a lot of experience in the mountains. I had a wonderful time for the two week,s “ she said. “It cost $75 a week. Imagine that.” From then on, she was hooked on skiing.

Almost 50 years ago, she spent about five years taking clinics and courses with the Professional Ski Instructors Association (PSIA) to pass the exams and earn her Associate Certification as a Professional Alpine Ski Instructor. She has distinctive gold Medal with 40 years from PSIA. She said, the medal “is the envy of many of the other instructors who are great coaches and trainers, but they haven’t be in PSIA continuously as long as I have.”

She has taught at several ski schools including at the Aspen Ski Company at Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado. Today she is beginning her thirteenth year as an instructor at the Steamboat Ski School, whose website states that the instructors are welcoming and

If you want to build your confidence in a safe, controlled environment with instructors who can guide you around the mountain, showing you the secrets of skiing and riding, you’ve come to the right place.

You don’t have to read the website to know that this is Nancy’s teaching philosophy. Specializing in teaching women, Nancy said, “Many women, both young and middle-aged, have been taken right up on a big mountain by their spouses, children, or friends who are good skiers and tell them they’ll teach them. This turns out to be a disaster. The people mean well, but they aren’t ski instructors, and they don’t realize that beginning skiers need to start at the bottom of the mountain and build a solid foundation with a ski instructor who understands their fears.”

Nancy tells her students, “Believe me I won’t take you up on the mountain until I know you are ready and have the skills and confidence to ski down with good controlled turns and appropriate speed for the terrain level and conditions.” She said, said, “We have fun. We take lots of pictures. We have lunch.”

During the eight months she’s not in Steamboat Springs, Nancy is real estate agent in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and the Lake Minnetonka area in Minnesota. Nancy writes a blog ( and a monthly newsletter called Nancy’s Network. In both blog and newsletter, she shares her thoughts and adventures that arise from her many activities.

Among the topics she covers are her reflections on being a ski instructor, her beliefs about helping people buy and sell homes, her fund-raising for charitable activities of the Rotary Club, and her volunteer work for Meals on Wheels through Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior.

On one her meal deliveries, Nancy rescued a man who had fallen down his basement stairs and broke his leg. She wrote in her blog, “Since he lived alone, I wonder what would have happened to him if I hadn’t come to deliver his noon meal.” She phoned 911 and the police. Paramedics took the 83 year-old man to the hospital where they found he had broken his leg in two places. Reflecting on the incident, Nancy said, “I thought I had been calm, cool, and collected, although many days later, I still visualized his body lying there on the cold cement and felt grateful I had found him.”

Nancy has written Nancy’s Network for 15 years. It’s her way of staying in touch with other people and informing them of events she participates in. Stories and photographs of sailing races and regattas on Lake Minnetonka are regular features. A long-term competitive sailor herself, today, she is responsible for timing five to seven different fleets in their starts and records and takes photographs of the finish of the races. He does these tasks with her oldest son, Blake, who is principal race officer at the Minnetonka and Wayzata Yacht Clubs.

She also writes stories about what’s new in the housing market in the Lake Minnetonka area. The newsletter is as much a photo album as a newsletter because she includes photographs that she takes of her ski students, the people she’s involved with, the sailboat races, and activities of the Rotary Club. Each issue also has three guest writers. She said the newsletter “is a labor of love.”

Nancy also teaches needlepoint and does photography not only for the yacht club, the Rotary Club, and Steamboat Ski School, but also at Trinity Episcopal Church where she creates photographic records of events there.

Nancy summarized what motivates her: “I like to help people to do things that I have learned to do. I’m always trying to educate myself.”

About the Author

Jane Gilgun is a freelance writer and professor who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Her outdoor sports are riding horses, hiking, and gardening. She has many articles and books available on the internet.

Secrets of the Celts: Ridge Running on Short Legs

 Glenveagh. How can I forget that name and what it means to me? In Glenveagh, County Donegal, Ireland, I had an epiphany about short legs and what they are good for and not. They are good for striding down mountains and on flat lands of valleys and ridges. Going upward, they betray. The Celts must have met their defeats in battle when the long-legged Norsemen caught up to them on upward tracks. On the flat and downward, the Celts earned their name as formidable and worthy enemies. No one could keep up with them as they whizzed by thistle and rock, their feet cushioned by moss and heather.

Long in body, short in limb, I am my fathers’ daughter. My Celtic heritage is in my bones, so to speak. So it was that I found myself in Glenveagh on an overcast morning in July with a hearty party of eight trekking off in high spirits from a white van that had transported us to the great green hills for what our guide said was an easy stroll. After an hour’s amble, we stood at a ridge and gazed deep below at a two-story block of stone at the end of a long lough. A stream flowed alongside and at the entrance stood a hawthorn tree that long ago had given itself over to the wind blowing through the lough that itself stretched out between mountains. The hawthorn looked like a druid bent backward with her green hair streaming behind her. Five of us descended several hundred feet to the floor of the glen to get close to the stone box that some call a castle. The ground was rough but the descent was otherwise easy.

Seamus our guide had told us stories about the house, so he did, about sheep stealing and keeping the sheep on the first floor and the loads of manure carted out after the owner was evicted by a landlord who was murdered for his heartlessness. The landowner stole the sheep and let his tenants take the blame. Ach, people were relieved when they heard of his death at the hands of persons unknown and revered for their euthanasia.

Our visit to the house over, my legs and I were ready for the ascent, or so we thought. After a few minutes, they weakened beneath me. Come on, I urged, we’ve got miles to go before we rest. My legs said onward, and we continued our climb. My rapidly beating heart knew that my legs weren’t into it, although my spirit was. Come on. You can do it. I’m not so sure, my legs said back. Onward, legs of mine. Without you working below me, we will not get out of the glen. Do you want the grey mist of death to descend upon us here? Not on your life. Through sheer will, my legs and I pull us up, one foot in front of the other. Left foot. Right foot. Straighten out your leg at the knee to cut down on fatigue. Yes, indeed the team of me and my legs did that, grateful for the instructions that Seamus had given us when we thought we could do the trek without breaking into a sweat.

My legs and I were the last to reach a ridge where the hearty seven enjoyed cake, juice, and eggs. People seemed glad to see me. Then, the rains came. Rain? How about, then came the deluge? So, up we got and my legs were in gear, ready to roll, or at least to put one foot in front of the other. Left foot. Right foot. The rain and the wind pushed us back. I thought maybe they wanted me and my legs to stay in the valley. Maybe our fate is to be pushed backward down the valley, over the cliff, and to fall dead into the cushion of heather and moss.

I didn’t want to stay, but I couldn’t speak for my legs.

Let’s rest a while. Let’s stay and enjoy the beauty all around us, my legs said.

What beauty?  I said. I   can’t see anything except mist and rain blowing sidewards. I’m not buying your shite. We’re going on, I said.. Left foot. Right foot.

How much longer? my legs said.

I have no idea, I said.

This is the longest hill I’ve ever climbed. I didn’t notice how long it was going down. We’re going to feckin die, my legs said.

I won’t let you, I said. We’re  moving on. Left foot. Right foot.

I went from third to last in the then less than hearty party of eight. Two women with bum knees passed me as if they were on motorbikes. I lost sight of the two who were in the lead. Left foot. Right foot. Rain and wind pushed me and my legs back down the hill, and we pushed forward. Salt from sweat burned my eyes. My thighs screeched, What you doing to me?

Drenched through waterproof boots and coat, we reached the top of the hill.

Piece of cake now, my legs said.

Let’s go, I said. We were off. We glided over the flat as if on roller skates, past those who had passed us. Faster, my legs said. Righto, I said. And so we arrived at the white van, hearty, happy, ready to glide over ridges and down the hills like our ancestors in pursuit of Norseman who had not a chance in hell to get away. Short legs are good for something, so they are.

The Queen of the Show

I’m 93 years old and still living on my own. Fields of sheep surround my wee cottage up the mountain. I just had yer man move the rams out of the flock of ewes and lambs. My mammy’s shawl warms my shoulders as I sit in the lounge looking out the window at the rams in the west pasture. They’re peaceful, so they are. One slept next to the fence all day. It’s no wonder. They’ve been busy for a fortnight or more. If I looked out the window behind me, I’d see the ewes and lambs in the pasture across the road. Straight ahead is the dresser full it is with trophies I won for my sheep.

Just a lass I was 80 years ago in the year 1936 when I had my first show. My brother Pete was laid up when he run the plow over his own feet. How’d he did it he never said. I think it was the drink. My da said it’s you that’s got to show the sheep this year. They haven’t lifted the ban they put on me the years ago when I showed up falling down drunk and singing Roddy McCorley at the top of my lungs and kissing all the lassies in sight.

To tell the truth, I was kind of put off by having to show the sheep. I’d already entered for cookery and flower arranging. That’s what I wanted to do. My da said for me to put that out of my mind. You going to be Little Bo Peep at the show.

If it’s Little Bo Beep I had to be it’s Little Bo Peep I will be. I sewed myself a Little Bo Peep white dress with blue trim and a bonnet to match. I cleaned and polished the shepherd’s crook the old fella left in the derelict shed. I polished up my lips with bees wax tinted with beet root and rubbed a bit on my cheeks. I dabbed my poor dead ma’s rose water behind my ears, under my arms, and in back of my knees. The old curling iron got a workout as I twisted my tresses in blonde-streaked curls.

I was the only person of the female persuasion who showed sheep that day. In fact, I was the first ever. Seamus McSorley said something about girls not being suited to showing sheep. I said, Where’s the law about that? The other lads laughed. That was the end of it.

Wasn’t I the queen of the show? I never did know if it was the sheep or me that earned the grand prize. I got best in show, all right. The show committee picked me for Little Miss Farmerette, too. My photo was in the Leitrim Observer the next day holding two trophies. Ach, I was famous, so I was.

The Yellow Brick Road of Not Knowing

I’m at my wisest when I am in a state of not-knowing. At those times, I experience myself as open to experiences of various sorts, such as to nature, to other people, and even to my horses, who represent zen to me. My experience is in soft focus and slow motion. What is happening has not happened before. What I have learned in the past and know intellectually is in suspension. Only when I reflect back on this state of not-knowing do I intellectualize my experience and gain knowledge. Perhaps knowledge is experience reflected upon and intellectualized.

Unfortunately, these states of not-knowing are rare. They require a sense of safety and trust, of relaxation and openness. If other people are involved, they have to be willing to engage themselves in the moment along with me and let go of rational thought and anxieties.

As I think about states of not-knowing, I realize there are various types. Some are a bit of nirvana while others are thrilling and sensual, while still others are gripping and suspenseful. There probably are other types as well, but three is enough for now. Sometimes the nirvana-like situations envelop me without my consent. For example, while driving a coastal highway in the west of Ireland, my consciousness shifted on its own. I was alight in the puffy pink clouds that arose above the coast. Or the time I was doing yoga and everything stopped except for the rainbow-colored waterfall that flowed within what I later learned was the chakra between my eyes. I knew nothing but that waterfall. Or the day I walked Third Beach in Newport, R.I., and experienced the unmediated joy that I was going to live after a operation for a tumor that could have been malignant. In each of these times, I was in what I would call heaven. I was wise during those moments. I was the unmediated me, with nothing between me and the experience of something I believe is mystical.

Being with my horses is zen. Nothing else exists but the rhythms between me and them—their huge eyes, soft breathing, and furry ears. Anxiety, the pressure of time, guilt based on actual or imaginary transgressions. These do not exist. Then I am wise.

I like the state of not-knowing when I’m with other people. This happens sometimes happens with friends. We talk, and we do things together, sometimes without talking. We are outside of our own concerns and anxieties, emotionally available to each other and out of the constraints of time.

I’ve also had this experience with lovers. The experience is like zen. During those times of not-knowing there’s a flow and a sense of being outside of time and of myself, soft and aloft. Even the sexual pull that arises between me and a lover is a form of wisdom. I give myself over to the experience which can be a highly emotional intense gratification, but wisdom all the same because these experiences have not happened before and they happen only in the moment. Reliving them is not the same as being in them.

Another form of not-knowing arises when I’m in the more formal roles of professor and researcher. When I work with students on their projects, I have to put myself in a state of not-knowing in order to understand what they want to do with their projects. When I get a sense of what they want, I can make suggestions about which yellow brick roads can get them to Emerald City. In other words, I have to start with not-knowing, get a sense of what they want, and then suggest how they can proceed, again not knowing if they will take me up on my suggestions. I am most unhelpful when I think I already know what they want. Role-based not-knowing has its own pleasures, but it is not the same as the transformative experiences of nirvana and zen that I have described.

A final state of not-knowing that is quite common in my life is the not-knowing I experience when I conduct research interviews. My research topic is violence and how persons cope with adversities. I also seek to identify and understand the belief systems that guide their thinking, emotions expressions, and actions. I know a lot in general about violence, human development, research methods, and myself. I know nothing about the person I am interviewing. Being in a state of not-knowing means I am listening and can hear them. The only way I know how to do this is to put myself in a state of not-knowing.

Knowledge, then, is a form of knowing. It is information that people have that can be put into words. People construct personal knowledge systems when they reflect back on their own experience. We construct more formal knowledge systems when they absorb what others teach them.

Wisdom, on the other hand, requires not knowing, of being emotionally and psychologically open and available to others so that others feel safe enough to express their most sensitive experiences. We are wise when we respond with knowledge connected to experience and when we offer what we know as tentative, subject to revision.

What I have written so far can be extended to mean that wise people can put up with anything, including disrespectful, abusive, and violent behaviors. Being in a state of not-knowing does mean my defenses are down, but it does not mean that my senses are dead. Threats to my emotional and physical integrity prick me into another state of mind: high alertness and instant appraisal of the threat. I can stand up for myself and for what I believe is common decency. I can appease by being silent or not resisting. I can retreat. In no way does a wise person let others get away with behaving badly.

There are many strategies for responding to bad behaviors while maintaining not-knowing and emotional availability. My preferred approach is to understand those who are behaving badly. That is why I have spent more than 25 years interviewing persons who have committed violent acts. I have been in a state of not-knowing for decades in regard to violence. At times I feel stupid and embarrassed about being stupid. I joke about being a slow learner. Yet, I am a slow learner. I have yet to write a comprehensive theory of interpersonal violence although I have written bits of it over many years. I am now in the process of writing up a comprehensive theory. As I inch along with my descriptions, explanations, and analyses, I continue to experience not-knowing. I believe that not knowing will be key to any theory that I finally construct.

One of the most surprising discoveries of this research is how little I knew about myself. In fieldnotes about an interview with a man who had murdered and then raped a college student at a university where he also was a student, I wrote

As he talked, an image of a bullet hole between his eyes came unbidden into my mind. I thought I had shot him though I had not moved as he told his story. I was sick at heart. Later, I was enraged over what he had done. Anna [not her real name] was nothing to him, an object maybe, but not a human being, not a young woman at the brink of her adult life, with a future to look forward to.

In an article, I reflected upon the unmediated experience

I remember feeling surprised at the image and then detached. I may have experienced a smudge of satisfaction that he was dead, that he deserved it, and that a bullet between his eyes had stopped his earnest narration of horror. These are themes that I have seen repeatedly in the narratives of the perpetrators I have interviewed.

Much of this writing is an account of unmediated experience. As I reflected up the experiences, I believe I learned something important, something I call wisdom. I learned about the violence in my own heart. Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago wrote “… the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a part of his own heart?” I did not know about the violence in myself and how satisfying violence can be. I saw that I too have ideologies that justify violence. I did not know this until I put myself in a position of not-knowing. I certainly was not looking for this kind of self-knowledge, but there it was.

Wisdom arises from reflecting on unmediated experience. Accepting what we learn from unmediated experience may be a yellow brick road that might get us to wisdom, however temporarily. Stupidly envelops up when we think we know something and we do not. Arrogance characterizes certainty that we know something when we do not. Wisdom arises when we are open to experience and emotionally available to others.

Not knowing can be difficult. There is something about certainty that is safe and comforting.  Not-knowing and being able to enjoy  uncertainty and ambiguity leads to capacities for creativity, self-acceptance, and availability to self and others. A friend who recently celebrated her sixty-second birthday said, “It used to be hard for me to admit that I am wrong. Now I can. I’m not perfect. I’m a flawed human being.” Wisdom is not only the province of elders, but it can take many years to know we don’t know and celebrate it.

About the Author

Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA. Her books and articles are available on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. This article first appeared in 2009 at the Second Journey magazine at

Birth Announcement: Finn MacCool, my Horse

Finn MacCool, son of Padron’s Elegante and CNH Header, made his front-foot-first dive into this world at 8:02 pm, Tuesday, April 17, 2001. Header, also known as Studley, was peering into the stall from his own stall two doors away. Ellie made an enormous effort to help Finn find solid ground and rested a half hour before licking him dry. Finn was on his feet in 44 minutes but alas had one heck of a time finding the source of milk, trying every protrustion and vertical surface he could. Each time he got close, Ellie squealed and Finn backed away. She was full of milk and apparently in some pain. Cheryl, the barn owner and former owner of Ellie, milked Ellie and she and I bottle fed him after three-four hours of his searching.   While Ellie was being milked, I held her at the halter and I could feel her relax.

At about 1 am, I slept in the apartment at the farm with my dog Molly under a newly washed horse blanket of Ellie’s–hoping that Finn would find his way without us. He did. At 6 am, Ellie’s nipples were shiny from use.   Getting that first milk into a foal is essential because they are born with no immunities to anything and must get them from mama.

Ellie is an attentive mother. I can practically hear her nicker right now. She nickered from the moment Finn stuck his head out of the amniotic sac and nickered about 50% of the time I was with them. The sound is gentle, like water over rocks. Finn had his vet check today, and he looked terrific in every way, including having enough mother’s milk in his blood. He should–he eats for 10 minutes, poops for a minute, bucks and runs around for 1 minute with Ellie following him, and then he sleeps for 10 minutes. I know. I spent hours watching, even missing a faculty meeting, whose existence did not cross my mind until two colleagues whose emails reached me tonight asked me what happened.

Ellie was cool right before she went into labor–so much so, that she showed no sign, except some tail-lifting and a few contractions which she’s had for at least a week. She did not sweat, she was not restless, she did not bite at her sides, and she did not get up and down–all signs of impending birth. There are a couple of other signs that I will let you imagine–she didn’t have those either. So, I decided she wasn’t going to give birth on the day she did.

I left her at 6 pm on Tuesday and got a call at 7:45 that the baby’s front legs were sticking straight out of Ellie’s back end. Travis, Cheryl’s son, videotaped the event, and I’m almost glad I wasn’t there. Ellie worked really hard, pushing, breathing, groaning. It was an awful lot of work.

Finn MacCool is an Irish hero said to have been a giant. He had long red hair and saved Ireland from invaders. He also created the Giant’s Causeway at the top of Northern Ireland in order to make a bridge to Scotland where the woman he loved lived.

Finn the newborn foal has legs that are almost as long as Ellie’s and he thus might be a big horse. He is chestnut (red) with one white sock, a blaze, and a flaxen mane and tail. He’s knock-kneed and his right back leg turns out, all not unusual in long-legged foals who have a heck of a time trying to figure out where to put their legs while they are inside the mother.   The vet told me to get a rasp and file the outside of those three feet twice a week starting a few days after his birth.


Finn grew to be 15.3 hands, which is a good size. He is a lovely horse with straight legs. The rasping I did worked. He is still in Ellie’s and my life and always will be.

Something About a Minnesota Winter

Something About a Minnesota Winter


Something about a Minnesota winter

when the wind whips the snow into white curtains

and blows the frigid air up our noses

and freezes the hair in our nostrils

when dogs have to wear boots

or have frost-bitten feet

when horses grow hair thick as sheep fleece

and their eyes sparkle in the blazing light

when tulip bulbs rejoice they are underground

blanketed with three feet of snow

when human beings hunker down

and eat big bowls of buttered popcorn

Makes me long for hugs and kisses

and the warmth of you

all around me

You melt the ache in my heart

put the spring back in my spirit

remind me that all is well


27 January 2014

in the midst of the 2nd Arctic vortex of the winter