The monks at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey do not seek attention, as they consider their mission to be larger than themselves. But their work is catching plenty of eyes in the city of Tahlequah.
Those who walk into Oasis Health Food Store on Muskogee Avenue might notice an assortment of wooden utensils hanging from the wall. What were once trees on the monastery's grounds have since been harvested, crafted into specialty items, and sold at the store. That helps the Benedictine community spread awareness of its presence in the hills of northeastern Oklahoma, while also supporting its operations.
Father Cardell of Clear Creek Abbey said the monks' main focus is prayer. But another essential part of their lives is labor, and they do a lot of it at the monastery. Woodworking is just one of the many endeavors in which the community has immersed itself, and those who visit the monastery's gift shop will see an assortment of other products made there.
"It's our way of sharing with the local community - sharing the fruit of our work," said Cardell.
The workshop looks like any other, but the items made there, though simple, are not like many others. Brother Bernard Marie, who oversees the carpentry building, said black cherry is the main wood they have been using to make various items.
"The nice thing about when you use your own wood - other than the fact that it's yours and it's local - is the fact that you know it's not been treated with anything like insecticides, or fungicides, or anything that could be potentially unwanted in a cooking utensil," said Brother Marie.
Handcrafting an item from wood harvested locally might take quite some time for most artisans. Ingenuity persists in all walks of life, though, including for those walking through the Clear Creak Abbey.
"All the spoons - we were carving them all out by hand, but after we did about 250 of them, you get a nice big blister on your hand," said Marie. "So I devised a little jig for routing out, roughly, the inside of your spoon. I went from carving one out in 15 minutes to 32 seconds."
The monastery has sold many kitchen utensils in its gift shop. Father Cardell said entire shelves of items can be purchased if a large enough group visits the property.
And while the monks have many other projects to keep them busy - such as the three caskets they built in the past year for members of the community, or the ongoing construction of their new sanctuary - Brother Marie was interested in seeing if other shops would be willing to sell their utensils.
That's when he walked into Oasis. Owner Deana Franke said they have spatulas, spoons, strainers, cutting boards, salad forks, and cheese knives.
"It's just beautiful stuff - all harvested locally," she said.
"We've sold a few and they've brought us a few more. People are often looking for something local. They like local-made things, and we would do anything to support anybody growing or making something local."
The doors at Oasis are still shuttered due to the COVID-10 outbreak, but Franke said they have been offering curbside service.
Marie said that as a craftsman, it's always nice to know his work appreciated, although that is not his main objective.
"My main objective would be that if people see harmony and a beauty in any object that comes out of the monastery, it would make them want to join the same ideals we have of giving praise to God," he said. "When people use that spoon, they can know they're helping support us as we make mundane items for an omnipresent God. That's what my main hope would be. Outside of that, if people are willing to pay for it, they must like it, so let them enjoy it."
Check it out
Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey allows visitors and has a gift shop on its property. It also has an online gift shop on its website, where more information about the monastery can be found, at clearcreekmonks.org.