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New Monasticism

by the Rt. Revd. Dominic Walker

We hear much today about New Monasticism or the New Monastic movement.  The term has sometimes been used to describe those living as fairly traditional monks, nuns, friars or sisters but with a particular new focus on the needs of today's world.  For example, the ecumenical Community at Taizé in France was established at the end of World War II to work and pray for reconciliation.  Today, the brothers welcome thousands of young people on pilgrimage.  Nevertheless, the brothers take the traditional vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience and for life.

Sometimes 'traditional' communities make adaptations to fit the local culture so for example, the Melanesian Brotherhood and Sisterhood were both founded for ministry and mission in Melanesia and beyond and whilst they take the traditional vows they do not take them for life and after a number of years it is not unusual for a brother or sister to leave and marry.

More commonly, the term 'new monasticism' is used today to refer to a growing number of new communities that are inspired by the traditional Religious Orders (Benedictines, Franciscans etc.)  but who are not professed in vows but take temporary promises to be part of a community observing a Rule of Life.  Most 'new monastic' communities welcome single and married people and whilst some live together, others are dispersed but usually meet together from time to time.

As there are a variety of traditional religious communities – some more active or contemplative than others – so there are a variety of 'new monastic' communities.  Some are clearly inspired by the Rule of St Benedict or the Rule of St Francis and adapt it to fit their situation.  Others follow a Rule of their own.  Some regard their focus as reciting the Divine Office and prayer whilst others are actively engaged in mission, parish work or ministering to people with special needs.

Some of the new monastic communities are ecumenical whilst others are aligned to a mainstream church although they may also have members from other churches.  Those communities that regard themselves as Church of England (Anglicans) can ask to be formally acknowledged by the Advisory Council on the Relations of Bishops & Religious Communities which in turn requires them to observe the new Canons or church law that seeks to ensure that communities are well ordered and safe places.

Both the Advisory Council and the traditional religious communities have assisted in the foundation and formation of new monastic communities and welcome it as an activity of the Holy Spirit and a sign of renewal in the life of the Church today.