By PAUL A. BARRA
MONCKS CORNER – June 19 was a big day in the evolution of the monastic community at Mepkin Abbey. The monks broke ground for their new Senior Wing and celebrated the halfway mark in the construction effort on the Clare Boothe Luce Library.
Thousands of visitors, more every year, come to Mepkin to get away from the hectic pace of their lives for awhile, to meditate and pray in the serene company of the spiritual men who make up the monastery. They find solace in the beauty of the grounds, the natural quiet of the huge former plantation and in the voices of the community as they sing God’s praises throughout each day. At the same time, the monastic community ages and the monks need to accommodate their elderly brethren.
The new buildings will be a boon for both visitor and member.
The library will be a resource to theological scholars of all faith traditions. It will be 11,000 square feet in size and will accommodate 80,000 volumes, as well as a conference room that will enhance the abbey’s reputation as a center for enlightened discourse. Lectures and concerts in the abbey church have become a popular part of life at Mepkin.
The Clare Booth Luce Library was topped with a small pine tree, a tradition that has many sources in history, one of which was cited by K. C. Stiers, partner in Stiers, Kent and Kennedy, the construction firm under contract to the monastery.
“The hand of God has done this,” Stiers said, quoting Isaiah. “The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary.”
The ritual of topping off a significant building under construction indicates that the work is about half done.
The other building that guests and monks came to ritualize and ask God’s blessing on is barely under construction but it is avidly anticipated. Especially by Brother Gregory Krug and the other elderly monks of Mepkin. Brother Gregory started out working in the infirmary when he came to the abbey in 1949. Today, he is recovering in the same infirmary from a fall he took on June 3. As his new, artificial hip binds to his own bones, he looks forward to living in the new building.
“We’ll be happy to see the new Senior Wing. Assisted living spaces and an infirmary will be included,” he said.
The wing will be fully incorporated into the life of the monks. It has been designed so that younger members of the community can assist the older ones and also be among them even as they go through the patterns of their own days. The Senior Wing will be the main pathway to the dining hall or refrectory.
Abbot Francis Kline told the assembled crowd that the new space was “fully funded,” thanks mainly to the generosity of Beth and Larry Burtschy. Other benefactors watched dignitaries dig into the prepared ground from which the Senior Wing will rise and joined Abbot Kline in a prayer for the workers who are constructing both buildings.
Those who wielded the golden shovels for the ceremonial groundbreaking were: Stiers, his partner Harry Kent, area councilpersons Henry Richardson and Shirley Hinson, the Burtschys and John Knott of Mepkin’s fundraising committee.