“Amid God’s peaceful beauty,” my favorite place of worship is The Notre Dame Spiritual Center on Shaker Hill in Alfred. Surrounded by bountiful orchards, teeming gardens (in season), and the alabaster architectural remnants of Shaker life, the rising approach itself to this little chapel atop the hill bespeaks composer Joseph Brackett’s 1848 contemplative lyrics: “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free …”

Enter the chapel and you will soon experience its comfort: coolness (summer) or warmth (winter) and peace (all seasons). This is the result of caring hosts – the Brothers of Christian Instruction. One of these, Ted, has attended seminary and is our celebrant. But wait, look around and see the gorgeous simplicity of this place all centered toward the cross that hangs above the altar.

There is no fashion show here. “Who are you wearing?” and the likely answer is probably Levi Strauss. Listen to the back and forth whispering within the small, familiar and intimate faith community.

Behold organist Becky, often accompanied by her two skipping youngsters, posting the hymn numbers in anticipation of the service. Listen to the hymnal pages flipping. “All Are Welcome Here” seems to be a favorite. The people are the choir, the organ expressing the traditional hymns that have been part and parcel of our upbringing from the day we were christened. But there is more. This Shaker campus also includes a shelter and retreat center so the congregation is often much enriched by the added participation of the hungry, the homeless, the hopeful. Hence, the challenging opportunity for us to “walk the talk” by helping these pilgrims or neighbors, just as we do several times a year.

At the appointed hour, Brother Ted and a layperson walk down the center aisle and solemnly bow at the altar as a profound sign of respect for this exquisite occasion for grace. Amazing grace, indeed. Unencumbered by dogma (we’re here, for heaven’s sake!), we truly live the liturgical year, a ribbon of chasuble colors emblematic of the Church’s seasons: the blood red of the martyrs, the green of equanimity, the immaculate white or decorative gold of celebration, or the rose hue of hope strategically set amid the penitential purple of Advent and Lent.

Ted is both a man of the cloth and a 6 p.m. news guy. All this is reflected dramatically in his intriguing homily. Indeed, how do we assimilate/transform the often ugly and painful news of the day with resolve, with healing and peace – both as individuals and as a community? Not only in Alfred but in each of our own spheres of influence after we depart here. We continue this reflection by asking forgiveness for “the things I did that I should not have done, and the things I should have done that I did not do.”

Then the apotheosis, the organic transformation and distribution of bread and wine – community/communion.

What has occurred here over this short time is nothing short of Aristotle’s “catharsis,” a purging of the emotions – grand culmination. It is human beings who will try to be better people – engendered by and through the simple backdrop of a beguiling monastic culture.

Back out in the world now, every enchanting field of vision on this sacred hill seems a spectacle: God’s canvas on which is painted an affirmation of the little chapel’s majestic tidings.

Both Francis of Rome and Francis of Assisi would be pleased.

Lorraine Dutile Masure is a retired University of Maine System administrator who – among other hobbies – enjoys theater, senior college, and penning observations now and then.