The ups and downs of New Monasticism

Given the interest in emergent movements and how they might apply to Anglicans, The LA Times’ article on New Monasticism gives an unromanticized take on a movement that piques peoples’ imaginations over how to live more Christlike. Following two couples who spend a year together in a Billings, Mont. home, the article shows the highs and lows of aiming for simplicity and not knowing what to give up or how to reach out:

A few months into the experiment, at a weekly house meeting, Jake Neufeld framed the vision this way: “Church is not something we attend. It’s something we are.”

But even lofty rhetoric could not lift the mood that sleety evening in early April. A quarter of their year together had passed, and the friends felt they had failed. They had not met a single neighbor. They had not given any aid. Everyday life seemed to suck up all their energy; it was draining just to figure out whose turn it was to mop the kitchen floor.

“We’re trying to live so every dimension of our lives is different,” Jeromy said. Then he admitted: “We don’t know what that will look like.”

The household consisted of Jeromy, a fundraiser for a Christian nonprofit, and his wife, Debbie, who stays home with their toddler and newborn son; Kyle Porrett, an architect, and his wife, Phyllis, who cares for their baby daughter and two young foster children; and Jake, a builder.

Theirs was a radical vision, but also a trendy one, part of the New Monastic movement sweeping white, suburban evangelicals. In the last few years, perhaps 100 communities like the Billings house have been founded across the country, and hundreds of Christians have attended workshops to learn of the concept.

And like many movements that are rooted in authenticity but too broadly evangelized, It’s easy to get swept up in the notion of giving up a life of privilege, but it can be harder to actually do. Jane Carol Redmont, blogging over at Acts of Hope, notes that as a movement, New Monasticism is reinventing the wheel and perhaps leaving adherents to fend for themselves (perhaps DIY Monasticism is a more-apt tag) when there are ample movements already in place grounded in history and ecumenism:

If they just connected with other similar communities past and present — Catholic Worker houses, various communes and religious houses, Amish, more mainstream Mennonites and Brethren, Quaker communities (Quaker testimonies include “simplicity”) and retreat/resource centers, Jesuit Volunteer Corps communities and Mercy Volunteer Corps (not to be confused with the Mercy Corps) and their Presbyterian counterparts (yes, the Presbys have a volunteer corps, doing border work in and around Tucson), the Sojourners folks (the original ones, anyway) and any number of others — they could get some practical tips and talk to people who’ve been at it for a while, in the case of the present-day communities in the U.S. The Rule of Benedict isn’t made for married people, but checking in with Catholic and Anglican communities who have associates or oblates might also be helpful. Community and simplicity aren’t new impulses in Christianity, though in any era they are tremendously challenging.

Of course the fault may be partly ours in the institutional churches that have wonderful and rich resources. We’ve hidden them or not made them attractive or failed to help people outside our immediate communities see how they could renew their lives and nourish them. And folk are suspicious of established churches for all kinds of very good reasons. So, there’s work for us to do too.

The LA Times feature is here: “What Chores Would Jesus Do?”

Redmont’s commentary, with lots of links, is here.

Past Posts