Elegance in Cape Cod
  • Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review by David A. Kalvelage

This is a stunning book with more than 200 impressive photographs printed on high-quality paper. It tells the story of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts, the place of worship for the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical monastic community founded by two Episcopalians more than 60 years ago.

The Church of the Transfiguration
Edited by Donna Kehoe
Paraclete. Pp. 244. $69.96

This coffee-table-sized book is intended to be about the beautiful Cape Cod church where the community gathers for worship several times each day. The Romanesque edifice contains breathtaking artwork and offers a peaceful atmosphere for worship. But the story of the community is as impressive as the photographs of the building.

Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen are credited as the founders. The two met at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Orleans, in 1958, and frequently afterward. Those meetings led to the formation of a small group of women who gathered weekly for prayer and Bible study. They professed their vows in 1968 and formed the Sisterhood of the Community of Jesus.

Through the years there were additional members, a chapel and other buildings, and eventually men became part of the community. Following 20 years of worship in a renovated pump house, the community spent several years planning, praying, working in groups, and enduring delays for the construction of the church. Groundbreaking finally took place on All Saints’ Day 1997, and the church was dedicated on the feast of Pentecost, June 17, 2000.

The church and other community buildings are situated on the south side of Rock Harbor, an inlet at Cape Cod Bay. The stone church is built in the style of a fourth-century basilica, meaning “hall of the king.” The book explains: “Hearkening back to one of the earliest forms of church architecture, the Church of the Transfiguration gave a 21st-century expression to this ancient design from which all Christians can trace their heritage.”

There is a tower that contains a set of 10 change-ringing bells, a columned atrium at the entrance to the church, and a lintel that tells the story of creation. These and other richly symbolic appointments — a fountain, lovely glass windows, a variety of stone figures, and mosaics on the floor and at the east end of the building — are beautifully illustrated in the book. On the walls, the story of salvation is told in fresco and stone.

Twelve murals on the clerestory walls illustrate the life of Jesus. The colorful artwork is marked by startlingly human faces, particularly a “procession” of saints along the north and south walls. At the east end is a massive mosaic of Christ returning to reign in glory at the end of time, overlooking a modest, free-standing stone altar.

The further one ventures into the book, the more one wants to see the community at worship. Photos show the community gathered for the Eucharist, processing into the church on Palm Sunday, celebrating the Easter Vigil, and at other times.

The book concludes with three short first-person essays about life in the community, and an appendix offers statements by the various artists whose work is displayed in the building.

There are currently 230 professed adult members in the community and an additional 160 oblates. Sixty sisters live in Bethany Convent and 25 brothers are housed in Zion Friary. Members have included Episcopalians, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and others. They are involved in a daily life of prayer according to the Benedictine tradition that includes Lauds, Midday Prayer, Vespers, Compline, and the Eucharist.

Despite the vast detail presented in the book, I wound up looking for more. Are visitors welcomed? When are the services? What of the children pictured? How are they involved in the life of the community?

This is an impressive presentation of a religious community and its center of worship. Its story deserves to be more widely known.

David A. Kalvelage, retired editor of TLC, serves on the Living Church Foundation.

Church Transfiguration Orleans


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