Thoughts from hearing about ‘New Monasticism’ at #gb11

Greenbelt from the Grandstand (Jerusalem)

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.



    • Our church (St Peter and St Paul, Mitcham in Surrey) has recently adopted a parish rule of life, introduced by our vicar who is studying New Monasticism. It’s like a personal rule of life of course, but applies to the community. I thought it was a one-off but it sounds like this is part of a trend. Sounds like we’re becoming a New Monastery!


      • A parish with a rule of life… what a fascinating way to build community, faith, prayer… something to think on for the future.


  1. Thanks for this, Rachel.
    Some of us (at the Arthur Rank Centre) have been listening to some thinking about how a ‘new monastic’ approach may be appropriate in rural situations. A reasonably recemt article in Country Way reflected on this, and I have material on something called STEPS from Eddie Green that he alluded to in one of his rural-themed blogs in August (I think). I’m also listening in personally to conversations in the MIssional Communities & Project Hub from CMS group on FB.
    Very interested in developments, and your reflections are helpful. If more relevant stuff comes my way, I’ll DM you or tweet about it.
    Simon Martin
    Training & Resources Officer, Arthur Rank Centre


    • Thanks. Many of my musings are by way of markers in a future of ministry that I can’t really see yet, but my heart is definitely in rural 😉


  2. V good to be reminded of these discussions at GB. Somewhere in my guts, I feel this is one of the few authentic futures for the local church. My frustration is in not finding other people in my congregation who share that vision – and it’s so tough to keep up by yourself.


  3. Hi Rach,
    You should ‘friend’ my friend Andy Fitz-Gibbon, who is from the Uk, an ordained Baptist Minister and now a philosopy academic at SUNY Cortland in the US- who is also abbot of a ‘New Monastic’ order…….


    • Very good book – you can buy it through the CMS website!! If you buy it there, all profits we make go to Mission, rather than to Amazon!!


      • Andy/Julie

        Thanks for the book title, and source. Looks fascinating. One to return to when I’ve got time for further in depth study; at present I have this pile next to me, and people who expect me to talk about them intelligently… 🙂


  4. About ten years ago or more I discovered a book by John Finney (“Recovering the Past” DLT 1996) comparing Roman and Celtic models of mission and church organization in Britain in order to see if this threw any light on what sort of models of ministry and mission might serve us now in a culture that might have more in common with the mixture of faiths and paganism that existed in the 4th –10th centuries in England (sic) . Of course there were simplifications and some romanticism in this sort of over-view, but also, I thought, some important insights.
    One of these is that Celtic monasteries (which owed more to early Eastern monasticism) became a centre for mission into the surrounding countryside (bishops were “pioneer ministers” or travelling evangelist, not princes of the realm!!). So a monastery is not so much a place to withdraw for the world (though there were plenty of Celtic ascetic hermits) but the spiritual heart of a community with several clergy / monks who supported and prayed with/for each other and also a centre to serve the people and evangelise. These centres often became known as minsters. But the model is based on serving people rather than a geographical area. This is , of course, the difficulty for the Anglican church so strongly based on a heritage of serving a geographical area, but as parish boundaries in towns and very rural areas become much less clear and are not understood by anyone except the clergy who have to work within them.. The book suggest that the “parish/Roamn” model works better to maintain the faith of a people where all the community are Christian, but perhaps is less effective for evangelism. (this is all a simplified from of the book’s argument, of course)
    I think a case could well be made for beginning to look at the “Minster” model again, where there is still an area to serve and work in but les defined then current parishes, and perhaps more importantly, clergy and lay ministers (and others?) gather for their own spiritual growth and support . I think there may be more in this model in England than a “Roman” monastic model, which still has an inward focus. Or we might talk about the “new friars” rather than the new “monastics”. …


  5. Further to Nick Mayhew-Smnith’s comment (above), from the parish in South London which we both serve, I’d be pleased to send you my dissertation on New Monasticism in Britain (which also contains a brief comparison with the model in the USA). I looked at 15 communities in Britain, and found a heartening sense of the Holy Spirit doing something through this movement. I believe it could reinvigorate the Church with the spirit of monasticism, while making that spirit available to a broader group of Christians than is possible with the traditional monastic models. Best wishes,
    John Ansell


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