Today I enjoyed Benedictine hospitality with a cup of tea in the Japanese style, and a piece of homemade custard pie, served on a handmade plate and garnished with strawberries.
The photo is from the St. John’s Pottery website, but it reflects today’s experience.
While we enjoyed our tea, Master Potter, Richard Bresnahan, sat with us and explained the chemistry of glazes, the physics of fire, and the temperature control necessary to create St. John’s Pottery. It was a relaxed, wide-ranging and fascinating conversation.
A small group of us had just toured the intimate studio, seeing the mound of raw clay which was dug out of the nearby ground, and the series of rudimentary vats and machines used to wash the clay. While we toured, the potter and an apprentice sat at wheels throwing pots, and other workers moved long boards loaded with clay objects from rack to rack.
Steven Lemke showed us a picture of the wood-fired kiln (which is nearby, housed in a shed), and is the largest of its kind in North America. It takes a year for the potters to create the thousands of clay pieces which are loaded into the kiln’s three chambers. And a year to chop the wood which feeds the fire!
Steven described how the fire is lit after a ceremonial purification and blessing, and how the fire is then stoked for more than a week.
I’m at Collegeville Institute which is part of St. John’s University, near St. Cloud, Minnesota. I’m attending a week-long writing workshop. There are a dozen writers here, working independently and sharing our evenings. We are all especially interested in writing about the life of faith, and see our writing as a vocation. I am so grateful for this place, and the important work it does!
If you’re in the St. Cloud, Minnesota area, or are particularly interested in pottery, I encourage you to tour the pottery studio. There’s lots of info at the website, and contact information. If I could, I’d return at the end of September to see the lighting ceremony.
The Benedictines excel at hospitality. If you need a dose of the real thing, I encourage you to look up the Benedictine community nearest you. You might discover a hidden treasure.