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What is New Monasticism?

 

The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new kind of monasticism which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of     uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1935).

We live in an extraordinary time in the Western world, when church attendances are diminishing but spiritual hunger is rising. (Dave Tomlinson, 2010).[1]

 

My friends and I do not walk around London in brown robes.  Yet a monastic spirituality and sensibility informs who we are.  We have made aspirational commitments to our bishop, to one another, and to a “rhythm of life” (what the ancients called a rule).  We made our decision to walk this way not only for ourselves, but together and for others.  We believe that in the midst of a culture whose primary commitment is to the self and consumerism, monasticism has something to offer spiritual seekers about the project of being and becoming more human.  And so, in our everyday clothes, we make these commitments to one another, to our church as a form of spiritual community, and to a new way of living an ancient way of life in a radically different context.

At the start of the 21st century the Church and the Christian faith face a major change in culture.  Many parts of the post-industrial western world are increasingly post- church, post-Christian, post-secular, post-Christendom, post-foundationalist and post-modern.  “Spiritual, not religious” is the fastest growing religious identification.[2]  People are seeking new solutions to the spiritual and existential questions they face, and they are not finding answers in traditional churches.  This is not all negative. The fact that people are seeking spirituality in an increasingly post-secular culture is an opportunity for the church to respond in innovative mission, to build new forms of church.

The shift going on in our postmodern and post-secular context is not so different from the changes faced by Anthony and his companions as they set out to found monasticism in the desert of Egypt.  From its beginnings, the Church had been a group of societal outsiders, living a radically different life from the excesses and power abuses of the Roman Empire.  As Christianity was incorporated into Christendom, as the way became mainstream, the early desert mothers and fathers felt that something was being lost.

Much is now written about New Monasticism in the USA, UK and around the world. This library has emphasized the call for action outside of the bubble of comfortable Sunday worship services by going to serve God in areas of our own nations which are challenging and where many are seekers of spirituality.  There is much poverty and impoverishment in contemporary culture that drives people to become seekers – in the spiritual, social and ecological.  This is at its heart, a re-engagement with the call to mission and more precisely, the loving intentions of God who seeks for all things to be restored into right relationship with the Trinity.  This is the core practice of which  Monastics and Friars have given obedience – to love God, love yourself and love others.

New Monasticism is not about a romantic escape to beautiful and privileged places in the countryside in response to the problems of the world, but rather a radical commitment to stay with and re-engage in mission, seeking the Kingdom of God in places where God can feel absent.  I have friends in the US whose parents live in the East and West Coasts and the North West where there is a deep spiritual hunger for meaning and belonging whilst rejecting mainstream Christianity. So who is going to engage with these post-secular spiritual tourists?  What forms of church are going to assist such people who do not trust Church and religion to experience Jesus Christ?  Who is going to assist these spiritual seekers to shift from being semi-nomadic tourists to becoming co-travelling Christian pilgrims?

I want to argue that this calling to mission to post-secular spiritual seekers (the gathering and sending of the people of God in relational mission), is the primary distinctive vocation for New Monastic expressions of the Church as radical missional communities.

(C) Ian Mobsby, Priest Missioner to the Moot Community



[1] Dave Tomlinson (2009),  Re-Enchanting Christianity, faith in an emerging culture, Canterbury Press, x.