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Monks welcome outsiders to their serene retreat

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A place where monks spend their lives in prayer and labor may not sound like an attraction for outsiders to tour, but that’s exactly the opportunity being offered at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.

Located in the Conyers countryside, the monastery, home to 28 Trappist monks, has been a spiritual home and worship site since the mid-1940s. 

For the past two years, the monastery has partnered with the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance to offer tours. Visitors are taken on docent-led tours of the Monastic Heritage Center, bonsai garden and the Abbey Church. A garden center and nursery, abbey store and café also welcome visitors.

“We want to make sure folks know about the monastery,” said Angela Walton, director of marketing for the alliance. “We want to enlighten folks about the lives of the monks, what goes on here and how essential it [the monastery] is to be part of the national heritage area.”

Walton called the monastery one of the area’s gems and spoke enthusiastically about the monastery’s architecture, natural resources and the 33-mile PATH trails that course from Stonecrest and Lithonia to Arabia Mountain and Panola Mountain to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.”

“It’s a lot to experience in a peaceful setting and visitors need to know about it,” she said.

Twenty-one Trappist monks left an abbey in Kentucky in 1944 and traveled to rural Conyers to establish a new monastery. They built a barn by hand and then labored during 15 years to construct a cathedral. According to tour guides, all aspects of the massive two-story Gothic-style structure were planned and completed by the monks including the stained glass windows.

Today 28 monks—two in their 90s—call the monastery home. They live a mainly cloistered (secluded from the world) life. They adhere to rigid a daily schedule that includes rising at 3:45 a.m. for prayer and throughout the day they have specific prayer, biblical study and meal times. Most of their day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. is spent in limited conversation. The brothers all have jobs—for example, producing fudge, fruitcake and biscotti in the bakery, tending bonsai plants (some more than 100 years old), working in the Abbey Store, all of which contribute to the monastery’s goal of being self-sufficient.

Upon their death, the monks are buried in a cemetery next to the church.

On a recent tour, Brother Callistus, who has been a monk for 26 years and handles public relations and development for the monastery, guided visitors through the cathedral and talked about how simplicity in all the monks do is crucial to living a life focused on God and lessening distractions that would prevent them from doing so. As an example, he pointed to the simplicity of the church’s stained glass—only one window bears an image—as an example of how they don’t concern themselves with ornate design as it might take one’s attention away from spiritual matters.

He also shared that the monks pray for the world and although they live without television and other constant connections to the outside, they are aware of what’s happening locally and globally. (One brother has the task of reading two newspapers and cutting out and posting pertinent news reports for the other monks to read, he said.)

Brother Callistus emphasized that the monks are aware of global events, even jokingly saying, “I know who Trump is.” He also pointed out that they vote.

“We take pride in that,” he said.

The tours, which are offered every fourth Saturday (except in September when an alternate date is being determined) from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., involve approximately a half mile of walking. The cost is $12 for those 13 and older, younger children are free.

In addition to the tours, the public is invited to visit the monastery’s walking trails, wooded paths, lakes and picnic areas as well as attend retreats and community prayer.

The 40,000-acre Arabia Mountain Heritage Area spans three counties (DeKalb, Rockdale and Henry) and has 21 sites including Vaughter’s Farm, Flat Rock community, Serpentine Bridge, Arabia Mountain, Panola Mountain, Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve and 30 miles of paved PATH trails.

Pre-registration is required and tickets can be purchased at http://monasterytours.brownpapertickets.com. For more information about the tour, contact Arabia Alliance Director of Interpretation Sarah Lisle at (404) 998-8384 or sarah@arabiaalliance.org.  The monastery’s website is http://www.trappist.net

 

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