At the Breakout Pioneer Conference, Ian Adams gave a session on new monasticism, or new missional communities. Ian is a Church of England Priest, one of the founders of the mayBe community in Oxford and he currently is setting up a new missional community in Kingsbridge, Devon. He is the author of the book Cave, Refectory Road.
His session was an overview of what new monasticism is about, and what it isn’t. Proper monks lived in the same place in community and swore a lifetime commitment to that community. They would share a rule of life – a discipline to live by – which differed from monastery to monastery depending on which rule they followed. New monastics do not go back to living in the Abbey, but they seeks to take some of the disciplines and values of the old monastic communities apply them to Christian community in their own setting. Most communities are small, but hey, most churches are small too. Could new monastic principles give new life and a mission dimension?
Being a Christian is about following Christ. This is a life long practice, and a journey into becoming fully human. (Seeing discipleship as a journey into human-ness was another topic covered at the Breakout conference). Authentic Christian mission is a fully human life encountering and interacting with the world and with others, but doing this on our own is hard. New monasticism drives us to the heart of tradition in order that each member of the community can be more fully human by being together with their shared rule, so that each can take that Godly humanity into whatever context they find themselves in.
Each community takes the essence of the monastic tradition and asks, what can that be about in a particular context. The early church fathers lived in the desert, often in caves, but slowly started to gather themselves together. Together and alone they experienced stillness. New missional communities would ask, what is the ‘cave’ practice with the people you’re with, even just a moment of recognition of God.
As the centuries passed, monks gathered in community and ate round tables in the refectory. Some still do. They gathered together, sharing hospitality and offering it to others.
As the Franciscan and Dominican orders grew, there was in an increase in the country Friar – the monk that lived life on the road, encountering people, but still living in stillness, following the rule and offering hospitality.
For a present day new monastic community, what is the place of stillness, community, and engagement? Can anything from the old tradition help us?
Their rule was fourfold: Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Stability. Can these be translated into a community rule for today that would equip and support people in their growing and engaging?
In our consumer culture, poverty could be translated into simplicity. We all live with many things we don’t need. and could afford to lose the things that tie us down, such as debt and credit, for example. Chastity doesn’t just mean celibacy. It also means pure, clean, free from obscenity, devoted. What is the equivalent now? Perhaps a devotion to monogamy is a contemporary equivalent – fidelity to the state you’re in.
Obedience was to a rule, and if you get the rule right in a new community, this needn’t change.
Stability looked different to monks and friars. Even though friars were out of the road they had a rootedness to them. What is it that roots us? Are we content with what we have – again this is quite pertinent in our western society. Can our stability be carried with us, or does it rely on too many things. A community rule for rootedness might be a community call to prayer or thankfulness at the same time, even if the community is spread around the country.
Ian has given me much to think about as we develop a small core team. I probably will not call ourself a new missional community, but we do want to be a community that is tied together even though we may work elsewhere, and one that is missional to those we encounter.