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Groundbreaking Episcopal order calling Poulsbo home

POULSBO — Though being a Poor Clare Nun prohibits her from having material possessions, Abbess Gloria-Mary Goller does own one great treasure.

A legacy.

The founder of The Little Sister of St. Clare, the first-ever order of its kind in the United States affiliated with the Episcopal Church, Goller dreams of someday founding chapters throughout the nation. The contemplative order, she commented, has a definite role to play in the world and she is thankful each day to have been able to bring it into being.

“I’m going to leave the sisters one day but I will leave them with my dream in so far as I have been able to conceive it,” Goller said.

Goller, who will be 90 in August, originally began the Little Sisters of St. Clare in 2002 on Bainbridge Island and the order moved to Poulsbo in 2004. The house of prayer off Viking Avenue is dedicated to the meditative spirit of St. Clare of Assisi, a Roman noblewoman who lived in the late 1100s and early 1200s and was a student of St. Francis of Assisi. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, or Clares, which is the second order of St. Francis.

It was the teachings and principles of both Francis and Clare that inspired Goller, who first joined the Society of St. Francis in 1982. But when choosing to create an entirely new order through her own Episcopal church, Goller chose Clare as her guiding light and a standard of all-female membership rather than the St. Francis Society’s male and female membership.

“The reason I wanted to be just a women’s order was because I felt Clare had been neglected and tucked away, which was suitable for her age but not for our age,” Goller said.

Though the Little Sisters of St. Clare are sanctioned and recognized by the Episcopal Church, members may come from various religious and social backgrounds. The order acts as an umbrella to several different vows that require different levels of involvement and commitment. Poor Clare Extern nuns, like Goller, wear habits and a black veil similar to Catholic nuns and are held to vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. On the other end, Companions like Tovi Paul-Andrews, who assisted Goller in founding the Little Sisters, wear brown jumpers, may be married and are members participating on an ecumenical level.

“(Participants can be) divorced, married, married three times,” Paul-Andrews commented. “It’s the search and the intent of their heart that’s important.”

At the moment, the Little Sisters count among themselves 13 members, including five who took new steps in their vows last weekend, and they’re always looking for new sisters. Goller said the opportunity to participate on a greater level in church activities is what brings most women to the group.

“It varies with different people but I think they feel called to a deeper commitment to Christ on a sacrificial level and don’t quite know what to do with it,” Goller explained. “The church is so focused on ordination that they think if you aren’t going to be a priest, there’s nowhere to be.”

Members of the St. Clare order can be found at local churches including St. Luke in Sequim, St. Hilda and St. Patrick in Edmonds, St. Antony of Egypt in Silverdale and St. Barnabas on Bainbridge Island. Besides the daily prayer and meditation requirements of their offices and regular meetings at the House of Prayer, members also take part in their respective churches in capacities like serving on alter guilds, prayer chains and Bible study groups.

Paul-Andrews got involved with the Franciscan order about eight years ago by responding to an ad in a newspaper on Bainbridge Island. She said through the order, she’s learned to contemplate and meditate and to put her trust in God rather than in her own actions.

“There is a movement or more and more people to be more spiritually aware of the God presence in their lives and the Little Sisters has helped me find my vocation of prayer with and in that presence,” she commented.

Goller believes that her call to found the St. Clare ministry was born long before she was. Her grandfather was a Methodist minister and her grandmother became a minister in the congregational church and the Presbyterian church after his death. That ecumenical background, she commented, led her to feel the need to create an Episcopal home for women of all Christian backgrounds where they could pray to bring about good for their communities, their families and the world.

“It’s an amazing thing,” Goller said. “I feel amazed that through the grace of God I was able to found it. He’s helped me. I could never have done it without his grace — never in a million years. I face each day praying for his grace knowing I can’t get through this day otherwise.”

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