Introduction to New Monasticism pt 4

The l’Abri community house in England

A couple of years ago I met a group of young people who had been co-housing for around 8 years. It had begun as a group house populated by a group of University students. Most student group houses don’t last beyond a year. But these guys were serious about it. As they continued through their years of study and beyond, they worked out disciplines that made their little community work better:

• Financial disciplines – (to a degree) a common purse
• Shared rhythm of prayer and worship – some provate some open
• Patterns of group meals – some private, some open
• Patterns of hospitality

Does that sound familiar ? And as they honed their household life it began to attract others. It attracted young people on the fringe of the church scene and those way beyond it. Young people would seek it out when they needed a place of prayer, sanctuary or pastoral care. Quite organically, their home became a place of ministry. When I met them – about eight years into the experiment – they were just beginning to realise – without any pride about it – that it was through the patterns of their group house that they were seeing the most powerful expressions of pastoral care, hospitality, evangelism, disciple-making and conversion of life. Here was the life and witness of the Body of Christ. NOTE: They didn’t set out to plant an emerging church or be neo-monastics. All they had done was try and make their household life work in a Christian way. And that was the result.

Co-housing isn’t always about house-sharing. Sometimes it’s about clustered housing:

• Jah Works in Doveton, Victoria would be one example.
• UNOH in Melbourne would be another.
• Peace Tree in WA would be another.
• The community hosting the Lachlan Macquarie internship in the ACT would be another.
• The l’Abri communities in Switzerland, Britain and Holland would be another.
• A Cul de Sac in Turramurra NSW – which has filled up with Christian households – led as a cluster community by Jock Cameron and Tim Pickles – whom some of you may know. Their detractors call them the “cult de sac”!

IN SUMMARY I have outlined Six patterns:
•Patterns of Retreating
•A Growth of Associate Structures
•Patterns of Post-Modern reading & Tribes
•A Pattern of Ecclesiology driven by Mission
•A Pattern of reclaiming Christian Heritage
•Patterns of Co-Housing

There is a seventh worth noting. I have not put it in the slides because it’s a pattern in its early days. But there is a global move to creating environments of constant prayer – eg “Boiler Rooms” and the 24/7 movement. This gets my attention because there was a wave of new monastic communities post WWI and into the 1930s which flowed from a desperate hunger for prayer and intercession in an era of failing churches. This hunger was found most acutely among the Anglo-Catholic clergy of the day. And it led a number to form new houses for prayer – some of which evolved into new monastic communities. I wonder if we may be seeing the beginnings of something similar today.

The first six patterns that I have outlined above flow from a hunger for…

• Closer community
• Deeper levels of discipleship
• Greater conversion of life
• Greater missional impact
• More meaningful ways of belonging to one another and journeying together

These movements may be a hunger for new ways. But they need not mean a movement away from Anglicanism. Indeed Anglican missiologist Peter Corney talks about the potential for making our churches look more like this;

CLASSIC MONASTICISM

Pledged Co-Housing
+
Postulants
+
Tenants
+
Workerst
+
Retreatants
+
Associates

i.e. a pattern with a whole range of ways of belonging. And he writes about the potential for creating high commitment, close community structures, as an option within the structure of our parish churches. And I believe there is real mileage in that – be that at the parish level or on another level… district …diocesan? And I believe that some of these more disparate structures I have mentioned – associate structures and chapters – provide ways of journeying together that are relevant to places where there is a lower population density.

So I leave you with a question. I offer it with respect because I know that for some of you your very work is tied up with answering this question in practice from week to week. But it may be a new question for some of us:

“If the energy for such expressions is grassroots, (ie if people are discovering these ways for themselves rather than because their institution has set something up for them) and we therefore find ourselves entering, post start-up into these kinds of stories; how might we as pastors, bishops, regional superintendents, home missions directors, build relationships that embrace, add value that is welcomed and serve the new things that God is doing among us today?”

A PERSONAL POST-SCRIPT
The lessons I learned in my years in neo-monastic expressions of church have enriched my view of the smorgasbord of church life. It has extended my vision well beyond the world of purely congregational expressions. With my fellow JGen alumni I think I carry in my make-up the indellible impact of life in intentional community. The impact of our time in intentional community has spoiled us for the “ordinary” or half-hearted and given us a hunger for authentic expressions of the life of God within and well beyond the conventional! In the friendship-based framework of The Simple Way it informs my personal rule of life to this day.