As some of you might know, I am a member of an intentional community that is part of what now seems to be a movement known as “a new monasticism.” In the midst of conflicts in North America between boomer-populated, largely affluent seeker-sensitive megachurches and their emergent, pomo, twentysomething counterparts, I find this new monastic movement to be a source of more substantial, creative, and fundamentally embodied ecclesial living.
Of course I am thoroughly biased in this evaluation, given my location within the congregational life of a community that for the most part fits the new monastic orientation. This frame of reference is shaped by 12 Marks which a variety of practitioners from various ecclesial communities and academics formulated through discussion together a few years back. Here is the manifesto, if you will of the new monasticism.
Moved by God’s Spirit in this time called America to assemble at St. Johns Baptist Church in Durham, NC, we wish to acknowledge a movement of radical rebirth, grounded in God’s love and drawing on the rich tradition of Christian practices that have long formed disciples in the simple Way of Christ. This contemporary school for conversion which we have called a “new monasticism,” is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by the following marks:
1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
3) Hospitality to the stranger
4) Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
7) Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
8) Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
9) Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
10) Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
11) Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
12) Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.May God give us grace by the power of the Holy Spirit to discern rules for living that will help us embody these marks in our local contexts as signs of Christ’s kingdom for the sake of God’s world.
I plan to post more on this shortly. I think the practice of a new monasticism is going to be a vital part of the renewal of the church in this time. In fact, it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who first made such an observation when considering the future of Germany after the war:
The restoration of the church will surely come from a sort of new monasticism which has in common with the old only the uncompromising attitude of a life lived according to the Sermon on the Mount in the following of Christ. I believe it is now time to call people to this. (Letter to Karl-Friedrich Bonhoeffer, January 14, 1935 in A Testament to Freedom, p. 424)
I think Bonhoeffer was quite right about this, not only in regard to post-war Germany, but in regard to all of the post-Christendom church. I am glad this movement now exists and is gaining more notice in theological circles, despite all the dangers that attend becoming a “movement.” There are many communities of such practitioners across the country who are finding a vibrant ecclesial home within a new, post-Christendom and post-clerical monasticism.
A few questions for reflection:
How could the monastic practice of making vows inform contemporary church life? Should it?
What practices are necessary for a post-clerical monasticism, which is congregational rather than centered on an Abbott or Abbess?
How does/can monasticism contribute to the church’s witness in this culture?
Is living under a rule truly possible or desirable for protestant Christians?