The New Monasticism in print and in person

[August 2009 Update: this workshop has been moved to May 14-16, 2010. For more information, visit this link on the Pendle Hill website. If there are more updates, I'll try to post them here, but I make no guarantees.]

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this or not but two Friends of mine, Martin Kelley and Wess Daniels, are going to lead a workshop at Pendle Hill this fall called New Monastics and Convergent Friends. You can read more about it on the Pendle Hill website, on the QuakerQuaker event page, or email Wess or Martin via the contact info on their blogs.

I’m probably not going to make it to Philadelphia in November, but just as a coincidence, a local Friend just gave me a book someone gave her and she thought I would like. It’s called New Monasticism: What It Has To Say To Today’s Church by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Jonathan is one of the co-founders, along with his wife Leah, of Rutba House, an intentional community in Durham, North Carolina. He is a leader in the coming together of a variety of intentional communities of radical disciples of Jesus. This book connects these groups to the long history of Christian monasticism, from Antony in the desert, through Benedict and Francis and the Anabaptists in Europe. Then beginning again in the 20th century with the Bruderhof in Germany in the 1920’s, the Catholic Workers in New York, Koinonia Farm in Georgia, John Perkins and the CCDA in Mississippi, the Jesus People in Chicago, the Simple Way in Philadelphia and Rutba House in Durham.

The list of 12 Marks of a New Monasticism is another list of characteristics of a religion I want to be part of. Much like Gibbs/Bolger’s nine elements of emerging church or Diana Butler-Bass’s Ten Signposts of Renewal. Each of these strikes me as a good set of measurements or goals for considering how I’m living my own life and how my Meeting is connecting our community life.

The first is “relocating to the abandoned places of Empire.” Fifteen years ago, SF Monthly Meeting moved to the South of Market of San Francisco on purpose. It’s less abandoned now than it used to be, but it’s still a place where we regularly wrestle with our right relationship to our homeless, poor, mentally ill or addicted neighbors. It’s hard sometimes, and I wouldn’t say we always get it right, but we can’t ignore them either.

Chris and I used to live in the same neighborhood. But for the last seven years we have lived in quieter, cleaner neighborhoods. How are we modeling our discipleship here? Or have we just backslid and given up? This is a real question for me some days.

Another is “nurturing common life among members of intentional community.” One of the recurring functions of our Meeting is to set up small groups that meet in each other’s homes for a meal and fellowship. We call them Friendly 8’s.

Chris and I are currently part of a group that we were assigned to because of geographic proximity. The two things we all have in common are attendance at SF Meeting and the fact that we all live in the same county just to the south of SF, not even the same town. Among the six adults and our two children, we have a range of theology, stages in life, and pretty much anything else. We have to be intentional about our community because it’s not based on a natural affinity. I mean I like these people, but we didn't all really know each other before. It’s not super-time-consuming either; one night a month we meet for an early potluck dinner and worship sharing. But it’s a good beginner’s laboratory for building community.

The other marks all seem relevant but it would be a book not a blogpost to address them all. In any case, I recommend the book to you and if you can make it, the weekend with Wess and Martin.

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Anonymous wess said...

Robin, great post and thanks for the upcoming plug on our workshop. That is indeed one of the books we'll be using for the weekend as well. Sorry you can't make it but then again, I'm not sure how "monastic" it is to fly across the country for one of the things!

4/09/2009 6:16 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Wess, I hope it goes well. We can't hog all the fun here on the West Coast!

If anyone wants to read more of what I have written on this blog about New Monasticism, you can search for monasticism in the blogger search bar.

4/10/2009 12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post and the thought provoking website! The only negative in the 12 point list of what the new monasticism is trying to accomplish is in the latter part of point six: "the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate". From my perspective, this makes if very tough, indeed, for me to participate. My wife and I have lived in some community-type settings, from a community house in La Verne, Calif to a year spent living with John Perkins and family and ministry in Mississippi. I'm just not sure that I "buy" the "old novitiate" rules. They feel a little too gnostic to me. The rest of the points are wonderful goals. Mike Wine

4/10/2009 11:41 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks, Mike. Come back anytime! I think the main point of Rule 6 "Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the
community along the lines of the old novitiate" is the idea of being intentional about formation.

I too have lived in some community-type settings, and it takes a while to learn the rules of the house, any house, and it's much harder if the rules aren't spoken or taught, but somehow you're just supposed to learn them by osmosis or something. What happens in those cases is that you only learn when you break a rule and are punished for it, either outright or just by coldness from housemates.

I don't think the new monastics are talking about breaking down the old identity, in the way some of the old novitiates did, but rather being explicit about formation. There may also be an element of caring for those who are not as new as much as those who are brand new to a community. I hope so.

And really, I want to be clear that I'm not an expert on how "the new monastics" are doing anything. These are just my thoughts on the subject.

4/11/2009 10:57 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Thanks for the plug!

I think Liberal Friends have a good claim to inventing the "new monastic" movement thirty years ago. I don't see much substantive difference between the "new monasticism" and the Quaker-inspired group coop living culture that's been strong in Philly and other pockets of the country since the early 1970s. Friends rarely get any props but I'd be willing to bet if you sat in on any of their meetings the process would be much more inspired by the Quaker-led Movement for a New Society that Robert's Rules of Order.

So some questions:

* why haven't more of us in the RSOF adopted this engaged lifestyle?

* why haven't we been good at articulating it all this time?

* why did the formal structure of the Quaker "new monasticism" not survive the 1980s?

* why don't we have any younger leaders of the Quaker monasticism? why do we need others to remind us of our own recent tradition?

It's entirely possible that the "new monasticism" isn't sustainable. At the very least Friends' experiences with it should be studied to see what went wrong. Are we what the new monasticism looks like thirty years later? The biggest difference between now and the mid-70s is the internet and the ability to organize and stay in touch in completely different ways and the new monastics bring the power of the Evangelical publishing houses. But will this revival turn out differently?

I used to say I lived in the ruins of MNS, that is to say in the ruins of the 1970s new monasticism. I lived in West Philly coop houses (some formally land-trusted in an anti-gentrification system from the 1970s), got my food at the local coop, and worked at one of the few formal remnants, a cooperatively-run book publishing house. It was a tight neighborhood with strong cross-connections and it was able to absorb related movements with different styles as they came in (e.g., a strong anarchist scene). I don't think it's coincidence that some of the Philly emergent church stuff started in West Philly and is strong in the neighborhoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actual West Philly has gentrified.

And yet I myself felt that ten years in that scene was enough, that I needed a change. I'm now in the "real world"--semi suburban freestanding house, nuclear family. The West Philly new monasticism was optimized for hip twenty-something suburban kids who romanticized the gritty city. It isn't very scalable and for many it's not very sustainable. How do we bring these concerns out to a world where there are suburbs and real world concerns?

4/13/2009 11:11 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

So I had some ideas about why Quakers aren't at the forefront of the New Monasticism today.

One is that so many of them/us are converts and they've been busy assimilating to Quakerism, not trying to create new forms.

Another is that for many of the younger adults today who grew up in Quaker homes - it was their parents' generation who were the 70's MNS folks. They grew up in countercultural settings and it doesn't appeal to them in the same way it does to the young evangelicals who can shock their parents and be solidly Biblical at the same time.

These are just possibilities that occurred to me - what do you think?

For me, I lived in an intentional community for a few years when I was younger, but I left that in order to live closer to my family of origin.

And now I've created a new family. On that topic, I recommend an old essay of mine called Parenting as a Vocation. I've been thinking more about how my desire to live a faithful life affects my children. I'll post about that later this week.

4/15/2009 1:14 AM  

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