Émigré Initiatives: Ekklesia Historical Perspectives

John  Prague

Émigré Ekklesia working towards the affirmation,

location and formation of a new type of monasticism

in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church

We have begun a discussion on our New Monasticism Forum on the Émigré Initiative: Ekklesia. We are supporting the discussion in two ways;

First, on www.northumbriacommunity.com we will be looking at some historical perspectives with regard to a new type of monasticism and the relationship it has had with the Church in the UK.

Second, on www.newmonasticism.com we will be looking at the most recent developments and initiatives we have taken towards locating a new type of monasticism in the Church.

Before we can begin looking at the ‘historical perspectives’ of the ways in which we have been working towards the location and formation of a new type of monasticism in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church we need to clear up some misunderstanding.

There is a growing tendency in the new monastic community for people to look back on the growth and development of their own communities and to claim, retrospectively, that they were living a new type of monasticism. Last year I attended a ‘new monasticism consultation’ in London. Most of the delegates represented relatively young communities, but there were a few older communities, who from their foundation and through their formation (some for more than 30years) had never referred to themselves as being new monastic communities, but who were now identifying themselves with new monasticism, though in most cases a little cautiously.  I found it ironic, that during the day a discussion began trying to find another name to replace new monasticism which many of the delegates were obviously uncomfortable being identified with?  Perhaps it would be wiser for communities to not use the term new monasticism until they feel comfortable that it is a name that really describes what they are about.

A second tendency is to associate New Monasticism with historical movements who once again have never at anytime made the suggestion that the way of living they have expressed was a new type of monasticism. A recent example of this has been the attempt to identify the Anabaptist Movement (part of the Radical reformation) as an expression of new monasticism.

This is not just about the absence of words or terms but a very real  absence in the self consciousness and self expression of the Anabaptist Movement in regard to either traditional or new monasticism. It may well be that such movements may reform and refocus themselves around a new type of monasticism, and identify some of their characteristics as sharing new monastic values, but to suggest there were forerunners of the new monastic movement is very misleading.

At Émigré we have felt comfortable living and talking about ‘a new type of monasticism’ since we first discovered Bonhoeffers quote; ‘The restoration of the Church will come from a new type of monasticism’ in 1980. This gave us a name for a way for living that we and several other communities had been trying to understand and give expression too.  We say this not to ‘score brownie points’ or as some kind spiritual ‘oneupmanship.’ It is to draw attention to the fact that ‘a new type of monasticism’ has been part of a personal discussion in the UK since 1980 and part of a public discussion since 1986, So when we talk about historical perspectives and an ongoing dialog between ‘a new type of monasticism and the Church’ we are not speaking hypothetically, but rather about an actual dialog that has taken place and is ongoing. It should also begin to address the mistaken impression that new monasticism arrived in the UK via the USA sometime after 2005.

In the UK the discussion about ‘locating a new type of monasticism in the one holy catholic and apostolic church’ started within the context of our own specific historic and theological location. First, we have an ‘Ancient Church’ which through Apostolic Succession  can be traced back to the middle of the 1C. Second, we have a ‘Reformed Church’ where Apostolic Succession was challenged with a call for the Church and its leaders to be true to the Apostolic Teaching as recorded in the New Testament. Third we have an ‘Independent Church’ with clusters of church communities, some connected others completely independent, who claimed ‘new church’ status having disconnected themselves both from the ancient and reformed churches, or were people from other nations. Finally, we have the ‘Monastic Community’ whose influence on European society has been immense and is ongoing.

Any dialogue between a new type of monasticism and the church has to respect and acknowledge the different outlooks and perspectives of each of these expressions of the ‘one holy catholic church’ hold, not only in regard to their understanding of the nature of the church, but the nature of monasticism.

The British Isles has been torn apart at different periods of her history, both ancient and modern, by religious differences, which have often led to violence and social upheaval.

Our experience at a grassroots level of Church and Community is the incredible Gift of Community the Father has been able to place in our hands through the charism of a new type of monasticism.  We need to handle this ‘Gift of Community’ with humility and sensitivity, while at the same time not taking ourselves too seriously!

We plan to do that in the next blog when we look at how it has taken new monasticism and the church in the UK more than 25 years to start getting ‘close and comfy.’

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