New Monasticism: what it has to say to today’s church by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

(Brazos Press; USA, 2008)

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an eloquent writer whose passion for Jesus and compassion for people shines through in this book as he ‘shares his testimony’.  It’s a journey into following Jesus with all his heart, soul, mind and strength which was really marked one morning as “rushed past Jesus in the subway” – a growing up moment for him as a young man and as a Christian.  It’s easy to be inspired as we listen to him describe his community and his life and at the end of the book, I wanted to be praying and living just like him!

Another snippet that I want to remember is as he describes the movement of new monasticism as a response to the world in which present Christians find themselves in the USA.  At the close of After Virtue Alistair MacIntyre famously says, “We are waiting not for a Godot but for another – and doubtless very different – St. Benedict.”  Jonathan touchingly quotes his father-in-law as saying what he hoped for  was “not a new a new St. Benedict, but Christian communities that may produce a new St. Benedict.” p.38

New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church by Graham Cray, Ian Mobsby & Aaron Kennedy (eds)

(Canterbury Press; UK, 2010)

MELBOURNE BOOK LAUNCH – 6pm, Thursday 24th March @ Solace 571 Heidelberg Rd, Alphington

It has been very exciting to read an advance copy of this the second in a series called ‘Ancient Faith: Future Mission,’ coming out of the Fresh Expressions UK stable.  It is really stimulating to read because so much of New Monasticism is experimental and ’emerging’ in the full sense of the world.  Graham Cray’s passionate introduction – ‘Why is New Monasticism Important to Fresh Expressions’ – sets the scene:  the challenges of being Christian are great in our western consumer culture, let alone the challenges of being missional.  How are we to find spiritual resources deep enough to become sustainable, radical discipleship, communities of Jesus.

“Consumer culture may be rootless, having turned ancient heritage into tourist experience, but it also lacks hope for much beyond ever greater choice.  It is the role of the Holy Spirit through the Church to offer hope, by bringing into the present anticipations, foretastes, of the future Christ has secured… Monastic movements were [are] creations and movements of the Spirit.” (p10)

The writers in this book offer thoughts, experience and questions to fellow pilgrims on this journey of the Spirit.  Ian Mobsby draws attention to the reforming or refocusing role monastics have in the church.  Shane Claiborne outlines 12 marks of new monasticism (see below).  Ian Adams speaks of cave, refectory, road as three paths in monastic life – withdrawal for contemplation, gathering in hospitality, and open engagement with the world – before suggesting ways that new monastic practice may shape contemporary church life and mission.  Andy Freeman shares some fascinating stories about new monastic ministry:mission among young people and likewise Mark Berry writes about so called ‘spiritual seekers’.

Tom Sine argues that “living in intentional Christian community is no longer just for those on the experimental, monastic or eccentric edge” (p.67)  Interestingly, Tom has a couple of Australian examples to share!  Diane Kershaw shares some reflections on Christian formation and rule of life in a dispersed missionary order (The Order of Mission) while Tessa Holland reflects on the theological and missiological benefits of a rythym of life.  Peter Askew from Northumbria Community shares a fascinating perspective on the ancient practise of pilgramage as does Philip Roderick from Contemplative Fire in regard to the practice of connected solitude.  A challenge for Australian readers is Ray Simpson’s chapter on the UK church’s celtic inheritance:  what is the place of the various ancient christian (or otherwise) traditions that make up our multicultural church?  Abbot Stuart Burns is very upbeat about the potential for new monasticism to meet the challenges of post-Christendom.

The ‘Afterword’ helpfully draws together the common themes of all these diverse testimonies.  The new monastics in this book share an understanding that the world has changed radically in relation to Christianity, but this has created a great moment of opportunity – for deepening spirituality, invigorated mission and passionate discipleship.  The rule and rhythm of life together with reinvented models of community and ecclesiology dominate the questions of practice.

I was inspired by the stories and excited by the spirituality encapsulated within New Monasticism.  However, I was equally discouraged by the difficulty of building these kinds of connections and disciplines for myself.  It is not possible to mass produce genuine Christian community, discipleship or contemplative living – it’s hard work and it takes years of practice and dedication.  There are many obstacles to navigate once the actual point of desire for this kind of life has been determined!  Some of these obstacles are about the way that society is organised – geographical mobility; disconnected generational relationships; individual choice; and, above all, busyness!  However, inherited models of church have not released the kind of grace the Spirit declares is my inheritance in Christ.  I have absolutely no doubt that I would be happier, healthier and more attractive as a Christian, if I read the daily office each day with other Christians.  But how on earth do I make that happen?  Where do I start?  Today, the answer to that question is:  In contemplative prayer; solitude; journeying with a soul friend; learning from a spiritual director; and choosing to be thankful each day using a form of the Daily Examine.  I am dependent on God to provide the rest.

Shane Claiborne’s 7 Marks of New Monasticism:

  1. Locating our lives in the abandoned place of the empire
  2. Shared economics
  3. Reconciliation
  4. Celebrating singleness and marriage
  5. Submission to Christ’s body, the Church
  6. Hospitality
  7. Care for creation
  8. Geographical proximity
  9. Peacemaking
  10. Contemplative prayer
  11. Formation in the way of Christ
  12. Nurturing a common life