Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lutheran Monastery Virtual Tour, Stop #1 - St. Augustine's House, Michigan

This summer, I am going to take you on a virtual tour of Lutheran monasteries found in the United States and Europe.  Why?

First of all, one of the items on my "bucket list" is to visit a Lutheran monastery someday.  Since the closest one to where I live (St. Augustine's House, today's stop on the virtual tour) is about 800 miles away, it may be awhile before I am able to travel to one.  So, this virtual tour will have to suffice in the meantime.  

Second, I want more people to know about these monasteries. If you previously thought that the words "Lutheran" and "monastery" do not go together, you are not alone.  I did not know of the existence of any Lutheran monasteries until I saw a reference to one on the internet a few years ago. They are one of best kept secrets in the Lutheran church today, and as I will discuss in future articles, I hope that they can be a source of spiritual renewal in Lutheranism.

So, on to today's stop on the virtual tour.  St. Augustine's House is found in Oxford Michigan, just north of the Detroit metropolitan area.  The founder of St. Augustine's House was a man known as "Father Arthur" - Arthur Carl Kreinheder.  Father Arthur grew up in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, where his father was a pastor.

Instead of serving in his father's church, however, Father Arthur traveled to Europe, where he was exposed to the newly formed Protestant monastic community found at Taize, France.  Eventually, he was attracted to the expression of Lutheranism found in the Church of Sweden, and he was ordained a priest in the Swedish church in 1956. He traveled back to the United States, and formed St. Augustine's House (officially known as the "Congregations of the Servants of Christ") in 1958.  Father Arthur resided at the monastery until his death in 1989.

The monastery started in a Quonset hut, but now has a beautiful retreat facility and chapel.  As of 2011, there were two professed monks and 35 associates who are affiliated with St. Augustine's House.

St. Augustine's House follows the Rule of St. Benedict, as they pray the seven daily offices, plus celebrate the Eucharist each day.   The community emphasizes the spiritual benefits of silence, as silence is observed daily from the close of Compline (night prayer) at 8:30 p.m. until the next day's Eucharist at 8:30 a.m.  Silence is also observed from the noon meal until the office of None (mid-afternoon prayer) at 2:30 p.m. 

You can get a glimpse of St. Augustine's House in this video:

Much more information can be found about St. Augustine's House on their website:

Or, you can follow them on Facebook:

Some day, I will make the 800 mile trek to St. Augustine's House.  In the meantime, I will pray for them, as they pray for the whole world.


  1. Looking at the phenomenon you describe -- Lutheran monasteries -- like you, I am surprised because I have never heard of them.

    Objectively, then, what are the differences between Lutheran monasteries and Catholic monasteries? They must be extremely subtle. I would not be able to see them. Once again, I think even a child would say: If there is no difference, why stay separate if it is the Lord's will that we be one?

    You wrote that Father Arthur became a priest in the Church of Sweden. Why Sweden? Of course a monastery must have oversight, an authority outside itself, or it will degenerate into a cult. Who is the head of the Church of Sweden? Why that church? Does this mean that Swedes are better than Germans, Danes, the French, the Spanish and Italians?

    Luther started the Reformation with talking points for reform, but the matter quickly became political and involved nationalism. Nationalism was the hidden agenda. It was not so hidden in England, and now it is not hidden at all anymore.

    Martin Luther was totally against monasticism: he himself and his wife left the monastic life. He helped shut down monasteries, and then after that, we have the horrors of iconoclasm in the following centuries. The Smalcald Articles, Part II Article III, condemn the work-righteousness of monasteries. How then can you hope for a spiritual renewal in Lutheranism through monasticism if the founder, Luther, opposed monasticism?

    I am looking forward to read how you will resolve the matter.

  2. Some of the additional details you seek about the history and practices of the House are found at their website, so I would encourage you to go there. Also, here is a link to another site, which has an interview with the current prior, Fr. Richard Herbel, wherein he addresses some of your comments in a general way:

    I suggest that you look at Lutheran monasticism as another step on the road to reconciliation since a 500 year old split won't be reconciled overnight. Catholic Benedictines apparently look at it that way, as they invite the abbots of Lutheran and Anglican Benedictine Orders to be observers at the abbots' conferences in Rome. Official dialogues have only gotten us so far - I can't think of a better way to further advance reconciliation then having people from both faith traditions pray from a common daily office.

  3. I do not disagree with anything you said, but... from the link --

    "These two forms of reli­gious life are not unre­lated. I believe this “monas­tic” style of life had a great influ­ence on Luther and the Ref­or­ma­tion. It has been said that Luther 'monas­ti­cized' the laity of the Church in as much as he ele­vated ordi­nary occu­pa­tions and mar­ried life to the sacred sta­tus monas­ti­cism was thought to hold."

    Once again, I will refer you to St Josemaria Escriva. Possibly, Padre Josemaria was "building up" on Luther or "tapping into" Luther: I don't know. At any rate, St Josemaria has given lay people -- and secular priests -- a rule of life in the midst of the world. Nothing changes. True devotion to Christ has been the same for 2000 years. My point is that Luther offered reforms, but he failed, personally, in the virtue of Obedience -- and split the Church. Poverty, Chastity, Obedience: The life of a monk. The life of a priest. The life of a housewife. The life of a lawyer.

    Yes, as we move forward we recognize the good Luther did. However, the division he caused by disobedience to his superior, the Bishop of Rome, cannot be ignored. 500 years is really not a very long time. Now, with the communications we have, time is further shortened. We don't need to drag our feet.

  4. Is this really a Lutheran group or Lutheran in name? Sounds like this is like the "old Catholics" who started their own church and chose what they wanted to believe and practice. Wasn't this Pastor Hebrel a Missouri Synod pastor who was dismissed for suspicious and questionable activities? Buyer beware.

  5. They are not "Lutheran in name only" - as noted, the founder of St. Augustine's House, Fr. Kreinheder, was connected to the Church of Sweden. Today, they maintain connections with the wider Lutheran church through the Society of the Holy Trinity. If you have not heard of the Society, they are are a pan-Lutheran ministerium (with several hundred pastors from the ELCA, NALC, LCMS, and other Lutheran groups) - the current Senior of the Society, Frank Senn (probably still the leading liturgical theologian in all of Lutheranism) provides oversight to St. Augustine's. As to your allegation against Fr. Herbel, I know nothing about that, and due to the vague nature of your accusation, which appears to be based on hearsay, I encourage you to reconsider your statement in light of the Eighth Commandment.

  6. This place is going to be closed soon! They are in debt!

    1. Hello John - sorry for the delay in responding. At a recent retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity (a retreat attended by Br. Richard of St. Augustine's House), I inquired about the health of St. Augustine's House, and I was told it is not closing due to debt.

  7. My last visit was 1983. And I hope to see the place again. Count me as part of a distant but concentric circle.

  8. Have you made it there yet? I spent a week at New Camaldoli in Big Sur this year and loved it; but as a Lutheran, I would love to go here next. I didn't realize there were Lutheran monks...

  9. I went! I completed the paperwork to become an oblate novice.