The Carmelites have been around for more than 800 years, but are still a mystery to many.
Their way of life began in the 12th century when a group of hermits gathered on Mount Carmel and decided to live in example of the prophet Elijah. They devoted themselves to a life of solitude and prayer to develop a deeper, more personal relationship with God.
Although most Carmelites no longer live as hermits, their devotion to prayer and a close daily relationship with the Lord remains steadfast.
Lay Carmelites are a growing extension of the order, with established communities in several diocesan deaneries.
Dorothy Foss, director of Our Lady Star of the Sea Lay Carmelite Community, said they have about 30 professed members from around the Pee Dee.
She noted that they are part of a religious order, which means there is a process of discernment and formation that takes six years.
“Not everybody is called to this particular way of life,” she said. “It’s a way for people to work toward holiness, to become closer to God.”
Foss said she has always been involved with the church, but felt called to do more.
“I cannot do God’s work, God’s will, without some sort of personal relationship with the Lord,” she said.
When she heard a Carmelite order was beginning in her area, she joined immediately. Foss said she knows others are searching for deeper meaning and encourages them to contact their local community.
Karen Blackwell is the regional formation coordinator and a professed member of the Servants of Mary and Joseph Lay Carmelite Community out of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Mauldin.
She was drawn to the order because of their deeply personal prayer life and a charism that calls for prayer to work in conjunction with involvement in their religious community and service to the world at large.
“I felt there had to be more to a relationship with God than just going to Mass on Sunday,” Blackwell said.
The process of becoming a Lay Carmelite is an intense journey of prayer and education reached through three phases.
A year of study and discernment over 12 monthly sessions. Candidates that are ready are then formally received into the Carmelite family.
A two-year period of more intense study, followed by temporary promises.
A three-year journey to advance in Carmelite Spirituality. At the end of this discernment period, members will make their final promises.
“It’s a serious commitment,” Foss said. “You’re joining a religious order.”
Foss said they welcome Catholics who are at least 18 and have a love for Carmelite spirituality.
“The gift of Carmel is the desire to be prayerful people and bring that joy to others,” she said.