Tending the Sacred Lamp

The Rev. Father Brendan E. Williams, CMR

When I arrived at The Bishop’s Ranch this past November and walked into The Chapel of St. George again after five-and-a-half years away, a small but powerful symbol was born in my mind: the rekindling and tending of the sanctuary lamp. (The sanctuary lamp is the lamp that’s kept burning in the chancel near the tabernacle, symbolically marking the living Presence of
Christ in the reserve Sacrament).

As I began tending this lamp, making sure it was burning continuously through the days and nights of winter, I was reminded of the monastics among my ancient Gaelic Ancestors who for centuries tended the sanctuary flame of their newly integrated Catholic Christian wisdom—along with their pre-Christian ancestral inheritance—and carried it through the bleakness of Europe’s Dark Ages. In a quiet way, I began to sense an old ember glowing anew in the sanctuary of my own heart: a revitalized sense of mission, not just for myself, but for the Church at large.

After two years of the hard realities of living in a global pandemic, and struggling to find answers to the difficult question of how we as the Church—in an already somewhat fragile and declining season of our collective life, made more acute by the circumstances of the pandemic—might seize this moment of liminality and institutional dissipation as opportunity rather than detriment, and move forward not just sustainably but meaningfully into a future of renewal. It seemed to me in my first months here, in the late fall and winter of 2021, that at least one dimension of such a way forward was being revealed: Keep the sanctuary lamp burning. This became a kind of axiom that I returned to daily—an anchor, a comfort, and a new small window into Presence.

What does it mean, exactly, to keep the sanctuary lamp burning? I think it means many things, but firstly it implies carrying something sacred into the darkness of grief and hardship; it means to shelter a flame of love and faith and commitment while old institutional structures dissolve, to carry a flame of Divine Presence from the spaciousness of contemplative praxis into the broken world of human endeavor. I think this latter point is of particular value to all of us in the Church at this historical moment. D. H. Lawrence once said that the ancient adventure of Christianity has ended, and our job in the Church now is to find a new purposeful venture. I tend to agree with him. And I strongly suspect that for us to have a truly meaningful future as Catholic Christians in the West, in which we provide something of genuine substance and unique value to the world, we will have to tend seriously to the transformative capacity of our Christian contemplative tradition and its attendant mystical theology. This will necessarily involve us in training our individual and collective selves to something genuinely transcendent; it will anchor us in a commitment to wisdom and interior transformation, whatever else might be unfolding or unraveling around us. This is an
approach to Christian spirituality that has traditionally been preserved by monastics, though I sense that now it’s time for that legacy to be transmitted fully to the rest of the Church—for the sanctuary flame to be brought out from the enclosure, where it was quietly preserved, and spread among the people like the passing of the Paschal flame at the Great Vigil of Easter.

At the very core of the Ranch as a place of gathering is, I think, a contemplative impulse: one that is profoundly wedded to the Land, and one that bears distinctly monastic markings. From past hermits who once lived on the Ranch property to the Franciscan Friars who ran the Ranch
through part of the 1970’s and 80’s, there is a spiritual stream in the DNA here that, as a monastic, I’ve felt very at home stepping into; and I can’t escape the feeling that there has been some pregnant possibility of deeply contemplative and monastically informed spirituality incubating below the surface, waiting for the right moment to be revived.

These are possibilities—heard faintly on the wind, but held closely in the heart—which I am committed to tending as chaplain and monastic-in-residence, and which I am eager to invite others to explore and step into, in Spirit’s own time. I pray that we might all, as a community, come to explore and tend to these possibilities together—not for our own sakes, and not even just for the sake of the Ranch itself, but also for the world at large, for all sentient beings, and for all who might cross the threshold of this sacred space we have been entrusted to steward. May the venture be beautiful.

Peace and every blessing,
Fr. Brendan+

Update: Summer Camp 2020

Dear Friends of the Ranch,

Over the past few months we have been hard at work planning and preparing for a full Summer Camp season at the Ranch. As dynamics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, we continued to plan and hold hope while closely monitoring guidelines and safety protocols. Based on the current information available from the CDC, the Diocese of California, and the Sonoma County Health Officer, the staff and our Board of Directors have come to the very difficult decision to cancel all of our overnight Summer Camp programs through July 2020.

We reached out to our camp families this morning to let them know they have options including:

Receiving a full refund of their deposit and any fees paid.

Donating a portion or all of their paid fees to the Annual Fund. Summer camp takes year-round planning and year-round care of the Ranch in order to make it successful. We are committed to beginning preparations for a vibrant 2021 Camp experience.

Rolling their deposit toward any 2021 Summer Camp.

The traditional camp experience at the Ranch is vital for our young people and families. Our Camp Director and Chaplain, Megan Anderson together with Ivan Thorpe and other volunteer young adult camp leaders, are already working on free-of-charge alternative offerings to keep campers and families connected this summer.

Now, more than ever, the Bishop’s Ranch needs your support. In these uncertain times, the whole staff is prioritizing the stewardship and sustainability of the Ranch during our extended closure. We deeply appreciate your prayers and support. Please consider donating to the Annual fund as you are able.

Lastly, please do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions or concerns.


The Bishop’s Ranch Team

The Ceanothus Silk Moth

This Ceanothus Silk Moth was found by staff member Julie Miller on the veranda of the Pavilion. Julie believes it had just emerged from its cocoon and was pumping blood into its newly unfolded wings. As its name suggests, this moth in its larval form only feeds on the Wild Lilac (Family Ceanothus), a shrub found all over the grounds of the Ranch. As an adult, the moth’s sole purpose is to find a mate and reproduce. It doesn’t even have developed mouth parts to feed once out of the larval stage! What a beauty with a 5″ wingspan!!

A Day of Prayer for the Life of the World: The smoke in the air is a call to prayer.

The West is burning. California is filled with smoke. I drove south on Hwy 395 and could not see the Sierras. I took a plane to Seattle—more smoke—and then to Oregon—the same— even Montana is afire.
This smoke is like incense burning on the altar— it’s a prayer and a call to prayer. A call to participate in the on-going creative, healing work of the Spirit, and a call to turn to the spiritual resources of our faith. If it isn’t smoke we’re breathing these days it’s toxic news, whether we get it in bytes or tweets, or newscasts of the more traditional kind. It’s hard to hold on to hope, hard to know what to do, how to be in these days. No matter the groups we belong to, no matter the commitments we have made to work for change, we often feel isolated in our grief and feelings of helplessness. Yet, we don’t often gather together to bring the gifts of spiritual practice to the truth of our time.
Come to a Day of Prayer for the Life of the World (November 3)—we will pray together, grieve together, speak truth together, in word, silence and chant—and look for strength and hope at the heart of our faith. There will be time for reflection, time for prayer, time for thanksgiving. The day will end with a celebration of John Philip Newell’s Celtic Earth Mass.

Led by the Rev. Pat Moore and Johna Peterson. Pat is The Bishop’s Ranch Chaplain, longtime student of the Bible, sometime preacher, retreat leader, spiritual director, and always a seeker. Johna is a singer-songwriter and hospice nurse. She has been writing music for 40 years.

-The Rev. Pat Moore, Chaplain

2018 Summer Camp Successes

• Paul Vasile from Music that Makes Community was on staff for the first half of the summer, teaching us the power of music—how we can make it more accessible to everyone (all skill levels) and how to use it to gather people. He taught the camp counselors that anyone can be a leader in music (not just the musically talented ones).

Weekend Camp for Families
• Fantastic inaugural year. Perfect opportunity for families to experience camp if they can’t commit to a whole week. Awesome way for the counselors to start the summer.

Generations Camp
• The summer art project—Botanical Prints—was a hit during Generations and throughout the rest of the summer. Families got to stitch their prints together and hang them in the chapel so we could appreciate them all week long. Campers each made their own (because they’re not as good at sharing) and also hung them in the chapel at the beginning of each week.

Family Camp
• First ever Family Camp picnic in Gina’s Orchard for dinner one evening. We got all participants out there—young and old—and had a happy hour, a short, reflective Eucharist, and dinner. On our way out there, we walked on part of the trails that some participants had worked on/restored as a service project earlier in the week.

BREAD: Explorers
• Campers enjoyed the new Discovery Group rotation entitled “Team Chill”, where they got an introduction to yoga and were treated to chilled lavender towels at the end.

• Read Camp was extended to a full day and had twice as many campers as previous years. With the help of Greta Mesics, librarian at Healdsburg Elementary School and neighbor of The Bishop’s Ranch, we created a reading-based activity rotation for the mornings. The rotation included the following activities:
• Nature and Nonfiction Walk: campers were led around the ranch, observing what plants grow where and looking for creatures (lots of lizard sightings!)
• Music: campers learned the lyrics and hand motions to fun camp songs, they also got to play around with hand drums
• Read Aloud: campers got to sit back and relax in the Ranch House living room while a counselor read a new chapter from a Magic Treehouse book each day
• Campfire: campers listened to scary stories and learned lots of loud, repeat after me campfire songs
• Readers’ Theater: each small group learned and rehearsed a short readers’ theater play, which they took turns performing for the whole group on Friday
• In the afternoons, campers got to play outside (soccer, volleyball, kickball, etc) or do arts and crafts (watercolors, friendship bracelets, shrinky dinks, etc) or take swim lessons. Also thanks to Greta, campers got to shop around the “book nook” we set up in the Pavilion and take home any books they wanted. The week ended with a much anticipated pool party on Friday afternoon.

BREAD: Adventurers
• During BREAD Camps, cabins competed to be the cleanest cabin of the week. They cleaned in the mornings and a counselor inspected their efforts meticulously, giving a detailed report at lunch. This year, at the end of Adventurers, two cabins were tied so we had a “car wash off” where the two finalist cabins each had to wash a car (both belonging to the “cabin inspectors” of course). They were judged on speed, cleanliness, and of course enthusiasm as “Working at the Car Wash” played in the background. They used sponges originally meant for sponge dodgeball—needless to say the cars ended up with a lot of soapy streaks but the enthusiasm was definitely there.

BREAD: Discoverers
• We had 29 campers—the most we’ve ever had for this camp! Tom and Krista Fergoso, our chaplains for the week, had us all pretend to be Martians traveling to Earth during morning program—so we had a lot of simulated rocket ship launches, which were quite silly.

By Marguerite Cauchois, Camp Director

Cicadas at Bishop’s Ranch

“Gosh, it seems like the trees are vibrating” said a 3rd grader. Their hiking buddy said the sound was like tiny chainsaws revving. The Bishop’s Ranch staff was leading groups of Westside Elementary Students on a hike through Gina’s Orchard in mid-May and were impressed by the calls of the male Cicadas.
These insects are diminutive in size but mighty in sound and it is Cicada season here at the ranch. Eggs are laid in niches in tree bark and when hatched, the tiny larvae feeds on tree fluids and then falls to the ground where it burrows into the soil and feeds on roots for a couple of years. The tiny nymphs emerge from the earth and make their way up into trees and shrubs and shed their outer skins. Free of their old skins the wings are unfurled and filled with fluid and their adult skin hardens.
The sounds they make are largely attributed to the males and they are saying, “Don’t eat me!” “Honey come see me” and “I found the love of my life!” The male cicada makes the noise using “timbals” located at the base of his abdomen (see picture). He uses strong muscles attached to the timbals to make them vibrate rapidly, which creates the slightly electrical sounding hum. Females flick their wings to make a clicking sound in response.

By, Julie Miller, Guest Services

Photo by Mark Aanonsen

Ranch Bees

Time of Transition:

Here at Bishops Ranch, we had lost our hive and were hoping for another when we saw a cloud of bees on campus and saw them clumping. We put a swarm box out sprayed with pheromones and they accepted our invitation. Our 20,000+ new neighbors have been transferred into a more permanent hive box and we will benefit from their active pollination of our many flowering plants and fruit trees. We provide a safe and welcoming place for them to reside and flourish and they contribute to the sustainability and productivity of our space. Hmmm, sounds like a retreat center for all.

As the days warm up and buds burst here at The Bishops Ranch, a fairly dormant and smaller hive unbeknown to us begins to forage. The queen bee begins to lay eggs and within weeks the hive can grow from 20,000 to 50,000 bees.

The honeybee colony is a super-organism with bees efficiently doing a huge variety of jobs and communicating through pheromones (chemicals) that are passed around the colony by sharing food with one another. The queen has her own pheromone that attracts the bees to her and encourages them to build the comb, forage, and tend the brood.

There comes a point when the crowd is so great, that not all of the workers have access to the queen. They are no longer receiving her pheromone signals, and so for them, she is non-existent! No queen, no longevity of the hive, so this induces the workers to create a new queen. There is no space in the colony for more than one queen.

Before the new queen emerges, the old queen takes off with thousands of the colony to establish a new hive. This swirling mass of bees is called a swarm. Sometimes you may see them in motion, like a tornado; at other times they will be resting in a teardrop-shaped clump or mass. Scout bees are out looking for a new nest site and this can be a very vulnerable time for these voyageurs. Click the link to see a video of the swarm. Ranch bee video

Information for this article was gleaned from: https://www.buzzaboutbees.net/honey-bee-life-cycle.html

Written by,

Julie Miller

Guest Services Associate