I had not really registered the term “new monasticism” before I went to Greenbelt.
I initially considered going to “New Monasticism: is it all hype or refriaring the church?”because I’d started reading the “The Hospitality of God” co-written by Bishop Michael Perham, and he was on the list of speakers; but somehow I didn’t quite make it, which was possibly fortunate as it was heavily over-subscribed.
Then as my physical and emotional spirits failed on Sunday lunchtime, I found myself in the Grandstand (Jerusalem) at “The parish as Abbey” listening to Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles, Seattle. Although she wasn’t the easiest person to follow (but that was partly the state I was in) I found myself intrigued by these snippets I noted down:
- community of God’s hospitality
- inviting community to come and own the space (of a disused church) through inviting (and not charging) bands, artists, and offering (cheap) refreshment
- chapel and the Daily Offices operate as the engine house of the church, even whilst other things going on
- there is no intention to coerce people into the Kingdom of God – we can only invite.
This work is apparently an example of new monasticism. I realised through other things I was reading in Michael Perham’s book, in the Greenbelt guide, and hearing around me, that there were many other examples in the UK.
But I also looked at my parish here at home. I wondered what parts of the things we do at St Peter’s, show signs of us being drawn towards a form of community that might eventually be something along the very broad lines of new monasticism. At the moment it may simply be the (cheap) hospitality of our coffee shop, the weekly toddler and children’s dance groups that operate (beyond our own church Wayfinder and Messy groups), and the art group that gather weekly mostly from outside the churched community. Things that have been going on for years. What’s missing is in fact the Daily Offices, though there’s many small groups of us who gather there to pray for something at various points through a week or month.
Then last week, my son told us he had to correct his GCSE RS teacher who suggested that Anglican churches are often only used twice a week! In fact St Peter’s so regularly has ‘stuff’ going on that it can be difficult to find time to slot in a funeral.
And so I thought of new monasticism again, and realised that others were too (like Revd Claire.) So I listened via MP3 download to the discussion I’d missed at Greenbelt (see link above) and here are my further thoughts:
- The “new” of new monasticism isn’t the rhythm or love or prayer shown by monastic life patterns, but the new contexts into which they are being placed – God is making things new through the creative obedience of those that enable him to be seen, either in new places, or in old places in a new way;
- Many expressions of new monasticism are being located in desert places, but the participants in the discussion seem to suggest these are mostly urban places. (Except for Tessa ? of Contemplative Fire but that seems a mixed dispersed community.) Why are urban areas any more of a desert than the rural communities of England where people live lives isolated by their wealth (both too much wealth, and too little wealth)?
- Physical (geographic) community seems to be important in the majority of cases. I liked the idea about communities being built on three types of people, the remainers (who have stayed, sometimes against the odds), returners (who want to be part of the resurrection), and relocators (who move in missionally for the purpose). Yet with a largish ex-Romany/settled-traveller community, within and around us here in Yateley how would, or could, a loosely monastic community work among them? Would it need to come from within – someone more friar, than monk?
- I liked the emphasis on “exegeting” your neighbourhood; learning and understanding it’s struggles and history, what makes it distinct or discrete from others. My own birthplace in the New Forest is very distinct, particularly through it’s commoning and forestry heritage, tinged as that is now by tourism.
I don’t like label’s very much, but I think “new monasticism” has more appeal than most. I think it’s because it describes a very lose collective of different ways of trying to extend God’s Kingdom, rather than trying to define clearly what people should be thinking or doing.
I’m not sure if, when, or how, such small reflections may bear fruit, or feed my ministry. But I have a sneaking suspicion that they will.