Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
September 23rd, 2016 by Joel Watts

a monastic community inside the local UMC?

I occasionally pick up Heath and Kisker’s book, Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community. Today, I was surprised more than usual as I read about the new monasticism possible within an existing UMC congregation.

I am more concerned about the vitality of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church than about the survival of the United Methodist Church. I suspect John Wesley would say the same thing. At the same time, while I am skeptical about the future of denominationalism, I love Wesleyan theology and am proud of much in the Methodist tradition. I want the best of Methodist theology and practice to survive. That is why I am convinced that the United Methodist Church can and should pioneer new monastic ministries. The new monasticism is a new holiness movement, and what could be more Wesleyan than that? Methodist monasticism should take at least three forms: an apostolic, contemplative monastic order both for clergy and laity, new monastic new church starts, and the development of new monastic communities that are anchored in existing congregations. Equipping people, both clergy and laity, to serve in these ministries will require some new models of theological education and a much greater emphasis on new church starts among the poor. While I agree with Scott that monasticism is essentially a lay movement, in Methodism we can and should create ways for clergy who are called to the new monasticism to answer that call as United Methodists1

In the previous chapter, Kisker chisels out 12 different marks of such a movement,

1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
3. Hospitality to the stranger.
4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

As we know, there is a rule that goes with such communities. In her chapter, Heath develops the rule (a mock-up, not a set-in-stone one) that is helpful for future communities.

In this time of deplorable inaction by the clergy, perhaps the laity should become more involved? After all, the laity are the ones who finance the entire United Methodist Church. It is the laity who have led before and who will lead again. So maybe the laity should look to something like this — something that is easily possible within the standards of the Book of Discipline.

  1.  Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker, Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community (ed. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove; vol. 5; New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010), 49.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

2 Responses to “a monastic community inside the local UMC?”
  1. Since I commented elsewhere on this… perhaps a throwback to the hippy movement of the 60’s or 70’s, without the sex and drugs, but conservative, and under the Christian banner? Interesting.

    “8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.” But seems communal in living? Very strange.

    Reminds me of the movie, “The Village”, without the fake monsters. Or maybe the fake monsters that won’t work are chastity rings or chastity belts on their youth. Kind of like a “want-to-be” cult, but not quite there yet.

  2. Joe Tognetti says

    Just added this to my reading wish list.

    I think Wesley, with influence from the Moravians, was successful in bringing about renewal because he adapted Roman Catholic monastic practices in ways that helped all people–laity and clergy–draw closer to God. I pray that we see such a movement again soon.

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