Introduction to New Monasticism pt1

fontenay cloister
Fontenay Abbey Cloister
A DEFINITION
New Monasticism is a term given to a diversity of groups, networks and movements around the world freshly finding…
    • A holistic faith.These were groups who were asking themselves – without any preconceived boundaries – “how should we live in this village or town as a body of Christ?” Their contribution to the wider community was multi-layered – spiritual, evangelistic, economic, social, political. They did not just offer the worship services and devotional studies around which my church-life had revolved.
      • high-commitment ways of belonging together that build closer community
      • ways of mission that are more personal and more intentional
      • patterns of engagement that are intentionally life-changing

       

      The ways being reached for in these pursuits are often ways contributed by the monastic traditions.

       

      My book THE NEW MONASTIC dramatizes fourteen drivers that have been moving new generations into neo-monastic expressions. The following posts summarize an elective I presented for the NSW Anglican Provincial Convention in Australia. It outlines six of these drivers. I have serialized it here into four posts for easier reading. Enjoy!

      PART ONE – NEW GENERATIONS + OLD MONASTICISM

      The most radical experience of church-planting that I have ever known, was among the shanty towns and pole homes of the Amazonian Delta back in the 1980s – when the early GenYs were being born – and when I was a very little boy! There I met a number of church-planters in this scene.

      Hacking their way through the jungle armed with inflatable globes, chalk and chalkboards and copies of the Bible, their method was to teach the locals to read – and to read the Bible. And out of that new churches were forming. As an aspiring church-planter I coveted the kind of church  growth I was seeing. But the truth is it took me more than 20 years to understand the challenge of what I saw.  However I did notice that these new churches or “base communities” all bore certain marks:

    • Different economic behaviour.Patterns of communal sharing of their resources at a far greater level than ever I had seen before in a local church.

     

    • Close fellowship.Powerful sense of peer-to-peer brotherhood and sisterhood among the believers.

     

    • A pattern of meeting not centred on liturgy.It was there. It was their way of praying but it was not centre-stage. The community of faith was centre-stage.

     

    • A different relationship with other authorities– civic authorities and church institutional authorities. There was a fearlessness about them.

     

    After 20 years I finally worked out that their whole ecclesiology was actually different to mine. In my mind a church was a group of people united by a shared liturgy of devotional activities. Church services, the eucharist, fellowship groups. These are the things which gather churches – aren’t they?!

    To that point my Jesus was a passive Jesus, passively reclining in the heavens to receive our faith, worship and service. Their Jesus was bringing a new kingdom into the world. And their drive was to serve whatever he wanted to do in their community. For them coming to Christ was about joining in with what he was doing – and in joining in they found community!

    Bizarrely to me, instead of congratulating these pioneers, their denominational leaders seemed to be doing all they could to tie this new work up with protocols and impingements and progressively shut it down. So I had to wonder:

     

    • How were these workers able even to exist?
    • Who was paying for this if not their denomination?
    • How were they able to hold together a profoundly loyal
      and orthodox faith with this freedom from the status quo!
    • And these markers, where had they come from?

     

    One afternoon in a city called Belem I learned the answer. I had been in Brazil for a couple of months and by now had mustered some Brasileiro-Portuguese. As I practiced my one Portuguese sentence – “Hello, yes, no, goodbye, thankyou!” – on a room full of these church planters, one by one I discovered that every one of these radical pioneers was either a monk or a nun. They were monastics. That’s where the combination of markers in these new churches had come from. It was in their DNA.

    MARKERS OF BASE COMMUNITIES:

    • Holistic faith. Multi-layered contribution to the wider community.
    • Different economic behaviour. Patterns of communal sharing.
    • Close fellowship. Powerful sense of peer-to-peer brotherhood and sisterhood.
    • A liturgy of worship was just part of a shared rhythm of life.
    • differentrelationship with the other authorities…


    MARKERS OF MONASTIC COMMUNITIES:

    • Holistic faith – multi-layered contribution to the wider community:
    • eg Healthcare, agronomy, literacy, technology, produce
    • Different Economic Behaviour
    • Common Purse
    • Founded on pledged brotherhood/sisterhood
    • “Worship Service” – just a part of a shared rhythm of life
      different relationship with the other authorities…

     

    On that day my understanding of the place of monasticism in the church changed forever. I knew monastics had been great pioneers in the past: bringing us…

     

    • Windows with Glass in them
    • Libraries with books in them
    • Schools with children in them
    • Hospitals with medical care in them
    • Farms with agronomy in them
    • Universities with students in them
    • Pubs with good beer in them
    • Science with good cosmology in it
    • And a Reformation with a Bible in it…

     

    For all of those we are in debt to monastics of the past. I knew that monastics had been pioneers in the past. This was my first inkling that monasticism could be an agency for change in the church today – and even an agency for new church growth.

     

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