Introduction to New Monasticism pt 2

Lindisfarne (UK) home to St Aidan
and many other greats in the great cloud!

I want to share some thoughts on phenomena that today are being labelled by some as emerging and neo-monastic. These labels can be confusing. They can mean one thing in the States, a different thing in Europe and yet another in Australia.

Neo-monasticism has a 10 point charter in the US. If your group bears those 10 markers you can wear the neo-monastic badge. Here in Australia we are in a more exploratory place…

Emerging…in the US signals a move a way from patterns of faith and spirituality that have been overly narrow, uncreative, pre-packaged and coercive. In Europe it signals a shift in people’s ecclesiology and approaches to mission. It signals a shift to grassroots initiative. People are discovering new patterns for themselves – not because the institutional church has set something new up for people to join. Emerging patterns are grassroots generated. Here again we’re in a more exploratory place. It means “watch this space”!

GenY is possible a simpler one. It means people born between the mid 70s and the mid 90s. You can see this week’s City News for more details. There’s an article “7 myths about GenY”. I would just say that GenY is not a demographic in a bubble. GenYs think a certain way about work – for instance – because of the experience of people in my parents’ generation – and in their parents’ generation. GenY are a part of a society whose attitudes are shifting – and they are at the sharper end of those shifts. But – and it would be interesting to compare notes on this – I reckon we are all a bit more “GenY” than we were a few years ago!

Many of the groups I am going to describe are populated by the GenY demographic. I am going to tell you some stories – to illustrate six patterns which have been moving people in directions we might describe as new-monastic.

Fundamentally Neo-Monastic means drawing on this:

picture this as concentric circles, centred on…

Pledged Co-Housing
monks and nuns living together
people trying it out
this included married people and families who would live on the monastery farm and participate in the life and worship of the monastic community. Monasticism is not just about celibate men and women.
these would live off campus but share in the work of the community – whether a community factory or a community farm.
people coming for pastoral/spiritual counsel
people who come because they have an ongoing pastoral connection with a Monk or Nun as a spiritual director. And they would have a way of sharing the values and rhythm of life of the community in their own setting.


Thirty years ago the world into which the GenYs were emerging was one where all kinds of Christians began to re-discover the prayer-retreat:

• Believers seeking a more grounded experience of God’s guidance
• Believers wanting longer times alone with the word of God
• Contemplatives seeking deeper levels of pastoral counsel
• Disengaged Christians looking for new roots
• Christians hungry and thirsty for an environment of prayer.

A whole gamut of forces began bringing more and more mainstream believers into contact with this. They would turn up as retreatants – staying with old monastic communities, houses of prayer, retreat houses…And some of the traditional monastic communities began to bulge with retreatants. Visit a monastery or convent and take a note of when the “new guest block” was built. It’ll be the1980s.

Literature, music and liturgy from as far away as Iona, Lindisfarne & Taize began finding a place in our churches because of that kind of conact. At this convention we began with a welcome liturgy from Ioan. For instance!

Then something else happened. People going on retreat would experience:

• Closer Higher-Commitment Community
• More Contemplative Life and an Environment of Prayer
• A Simpler Lifestyle
• A level of counsel deepened by the life of community
• A more intentional encounter with God

And having tasted it wanted to take it home with them. So this phenomenon – Associates – began to balloon in order to accommodate that.


Being an Associate usually means:

• Sharing in a the values, virtues and rhythm of life of the community
• Adopting new rhythms of prayer and new disciplines to strengthen ongoing conversion of life
• A commitment to regular pastoral time with a spiritual mentor within the community

And these associate structures have been bulging as GenY have grown up in church life. So while, for instance, Benedictine vocations to monkdom and nunhood have fallen off, the Oblates – their associate structure – has been steadily growing. Same with the Franciscans internationally – their Secular Order is growing. And that pattern repeats in other orders too.

Around the Western world people have an appetite for these associate structures because they are hungry for deeper levels of counsel and discipleship than they are achieving in their local churches. This has to make me wonder if there may be aspects to parish life which militate against this deeper kind of engagement with one another. Because all these new customers have been coming from congregational and parish churches; hungry and thirsty for this deeper engagement. It is this hunger that is forging a fresh connection between the monastic and the parish strands of church life.