A New Monasticism
The monastic tradition is almost as old as the church itself. The Oxford Movement during the 19th century sought the renewal of the Church of England p30 and it is thought that to some degree the Protestant Evangelical tradition drew on Benedictine spirituality. This finds expression in William Carey’s Serampore Brotherhood in India. A new Monasticism has emerged following the World Wars of last century. p30. The more commonly known:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Finkenwalde Lutheran communities,
Iona Community Scotland,
Northumbria Community, Lindisfarne.
More recently in 2004 an American Conference drew up the 12 Distinctive features of the movement. Also more recently African Reformed theologian/ missionologist Donald Bloesch has been an advocate.
My interest was heightened by the rich concepts of Celtic Christian spirituality and the Saints of Celtic Cornwall. The best expressions of the new monasticism are found in the Fresh Expressions movement, the Church of England in the UK and North America. The overview of this paper is drawn from “A New Monastic Handbook, from vision to practice”, Ian Mobsby and Mark Berry Canterbury Press, 2014.
The new monasticism is not a call to institutionalism and its associated power structures. We live in a fragmented world, a post-modern, post denominational era where people are leaving the church institution. p167 and where others experience a “holy restlessness”. Historically monasticism has been a ‘return to God’ movement that seeks to develop a spiritualty that marries inner journey (mono) with corporate community and active mission. It is Trinitarian and Christo-centric, orthodox and confessional, drawing on the Franciscan and Benedictine traditions. There is no one model. It is always contextual in structure and built around a deep desire to draw closer to God. This involves a choice to adopt an ordered life style, a ‘rhythm of life’ (rule). Learning goes beyond the cerebral/academic. It is both a left and right brain movement. It is intuitive, Holy Spirit aware, learning via experience and a ‘whole of life’ apprenticeship. This happens through prayer, intentional participation in community and the action-experience of mission.
Where it begins.
New monasticism relates to a post-modern mind-set and a post-denominational context. Amid our barren secularism God is an affirming deity motivated by love. As people see this costly love expressed in action some desire to find God. At this point an authentic monastic life becomes a critique of the church and the world. New monasticism specifically reaches the de-churched and un-churched person who has a yearning to explore, (a) a deeper spirituality and prayer life related to the real world and daily life (Celtic) (b) for others it is a passion for justice and mercy, an activism that needs to be sustained. New monasticism relates well to both of these of these needs and brings them together. Moot Community began with the spiritual seekers of London (This is not a church-plant model nor really a quasi-convenient, alternative church model. Perhaps it is more akin to the ‘new age’ seeker.)
The English-European scene is different to the Australian mind-set. There is an overseas pagan-occult, German Spiritism heritage and awareness.
New monasticism is very contextual in structure. There is no one model so it has a flexibility that suits it to a post-modern context. It is shaped by fine tuning to local circumstances and by being immersed in the culture of the day. Each community has its own sense of purpose, vision and values p179. (Thus discussion questions are appropriate at the end of this paper)
It needs to be approached with an innovative, creative openness and a readiness to recognise the common characteristics of a community that seeks to provide a deeper relationship with God, with each other and the world. p41. (Seven steps to work out call p180) Examples of beginnings: Open arts café, Allhollows Bow Community reclaimed church building, social lounge discussion.
Quality Community. p41, p44, p163.
The new monasticism is built on the existence of radical community, the prompting and inspiration of the life of the Triune God. (Holy Community) It is a radical expression of God’s love expressed through community in mission. Depth of community is important and is inseparable from mission. How we live together in the culture is as much a part of God’s mission as any project we undertake. It is the interaction of members with community that breaks down stereo types of Christianity and it is an evangelism that attracts (Examples: Art show, Host Café, Social event, Pub spirituality, Community discussion, Tree plant, Children’s Holiday club, Street theatre.)
It is during community mission that experience takes place, (encountering God) and evangelism occurs, (attracting others) learning happens (about ourselves). This means quality community is mission and it is fed by spiritual direction and exercises, worship liturgy, common commit to rhythm of life, common meals, discussion groups etc.
The movement is not anti-church. It has connections to orthodoxy that provides roots and accountability. Benedictine and Franciscan spiritual heritage are drawn from both traditions recognise the necessity of being part of, and authorised by the wider church. Both of these traditions understand the Christian life as Life in the Spirit and both give room to explore the spiritual journey. p33. Thus we need to keep asking, ”What is God calling me and community to be about”? p34.
Partnership with churches often emerges in the story of English new monasticism not only for accountability p41 but for facilitating/providing spiritual and mission resourcing. Examples: Boiler Room Methodist Church, Safeplace-CMS, Moot Community, p43.
Benedictine focus p22, p23. Jesus new command to love God, love one another as yourself is central to Christian identity, thus the focus is on prayer, praise and worship. People experience the love of God. Once they know they are loved by God they face their brokenness. Inspired by love of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. (Val Jon and Bishop Lesmiserable – grace)
Franciscan focus p26, p27. Very Christ Centred. The incarnation and details of life of Jesus are central and the main inspiration. Linked to social justice, everyday happenings. When we are among and witness to the poor we draw on Franciscan inheritance.
Rhythm of Life p203. The basic ground rule.
When people choose to live as a network of people (residential or dispersed) they commit to an intentional community. Members share a life style that has a built in order about it. This order brings a rhythm to their lives. Instead of a chaotic, cluttered, life style shaped by the priorities of the world, life is lived with direction and purpose in a context of worship, teaching and action. (Methodists)
The Rhythm of Life is an agreed upon expression of the aspirations and practises of the community. It is the particular calling of the community that is personally adopted and that forms in the life of its members. This process of developing a Rhythm of Life requires time and careful discernment as it sets out the Spiritual life and also the Active Practises of the community. Virtues and Postures can also be adopted. Some groups take 12 months to finalise this. p181 (Realism is important) Safeplace community use a weekly pattern p178. People do not commit to Rhythm of Life lightly. Some adopt the community first for 10 months and later commit to Rhythm of Life and to exploring the faith. (see radical hospitality)
Discipleship Formation. From unchurched explorers to spiritual pilgrims.
Monastic spirituality implies a single hearted (solitary) returning/seeking God. This can be done alone and/or corporate together. Formation is an intentional structured process-most communities use the Onion-layer-model. This begins with a person’s individual journey and helping them understand their own inner spiritual journey. This is supported through God’s own story. p161. Through a daily rhythm the inner journey is linked with an outer journey.
Boiler Room community provide a good/proved model for formation of the unchurched p161. They draw on monastic traditions: Participation in community, costly-loving service, experiential learning, and contemplative prayer-meditation.
Most use contemplative prayer and Soul Friend or Spiritual Director, p159 to p199 (Soulspark, Moot, Contemplative Fire) Also Reflective discussion about issues: relationships, sexuality, justice. (Boiler Room, Safeplace, Moot)
Radical hospitality. Non Christian, searching people who want to live in community are welcome. They belong before they believe. p23. (This is like the ancient catechumenate based on long-term experiential apprenticeship. (See The Change of Conversion and Origin of Christendom, Alan Kreider, Trinity Press 1999)
Types of Community
Most communities are residential and this live-in model is recognised as best for discipleship formation. What follows here are details about dispersed communities.
People in dispersed communities can often gather for a weekly meal, for worship and action then return home. Sometimes they work hard to find ways which create a sense of connection. eg. Rostered phone calls, shared daily liturgies, intentional reflections, common prayer book via Information Technology, emails, texts are helpful.
Soul Spark: p159. Where dispersed formation (non- residential) takes place learning content plus experience becomes important (See resources)
Lindisfarne: p166. A Mother House-hub providing resources for other locations.
Monos Community: p168. Mother House resources.
Earth Abbey: p171. Live with specific ethic.
Order of Mission: p171.TOM. Ch. renewal/Vowels, simplicity, purity, accountable.
Earlsfield Friary: p172. Intentional community, Mon.prayer / Thur.meal. Highly located community, across households.
Rhythm of life.
Note Handbook said don’t set expectations too high. Perhaps community adopt a common daily devotional book (like The Word for Today) Preaching on Sunday could follow the theme of that week.
Type of Community. NM is clearly dispersed.
What might this mean re the priorities and shape of Rhythm of Life?
If an increased awareness/ promotion of NM takes place could resources and news be spread across a range of churches willing to be partners. Should NM be a Mother House community to a range of dispersed house groups.
E A Curnow