Émigré Initiatives: Ekklesia/‘Getting up close and comfy’


‘Getting up close and comfy’

As I said at the end of the last blog it has taken 25 years for a new type of monasticism and the Church, specifically but not limited to the UK  to start  getting  up ‘ close and comfy’

A friend of mine recently commented that new monasticism and the Northumbria Community are now an accepted part of the vocabulary of the College where she is training to be a Priest in the Anglican Communion. That said, getting up ‘close and comfy’ has not been limited to the Anglican Communion.

Roy Searle, the current leader and one of the founding members of the Northumbria Community has built bridges and made partnerships between new monasticism and the offspring of both the Reformation and the Radical Reformation Churches.  The ongoing acceptance of new monasticism in those churches is reflected in the appointment of Roy as the President of the Baptist Union in 2004/5.

His colleague and my successor in the Community, Trevor Miller, faithfully continues building on the legacy of the ‘Gift of Community’ and Northumbria remains  an eclectic mix of folk from every type of Christian background or not.

Ant Grimley, my student and colleague for over 10 years has built a solid relationship between a new type of monasticism and traditional monasticism. Check his work out at www.monos.org.uk This is a realization of a shared vision that a new type of monasticism has to be inextricably connected to traditional monasticism. (Sorry Dietrich…but we know you were a closet traditional monastic!!)

How did a new type of monasticism manage to get up ‘close and comfy’ with the Church?

Have we really developed the kind if relationship that we both need to face the challenges of these uncertain times?

The first real dialog between a new type of monasticism and the church in the UK took place in 1985. I was a relatively young man then, and truly believed that when I presented Bishop David Jenkins with a vision for a ‘secular monasticism’ supported in the Church he would jump at the possibility. The concept was simple. Our small community would live and worship alongside the Churches in the Parish in which we lived , and at the same time be immersed in the local community. We would slowly cultivate the soil to enable us to grow in a new monastic vocation, sharing the fruit of that growth with others who feel that they may share our vocation. Our small community was shocked when the Bishop suggested the ‘desert‘was a better location for this to grow rather than the Church. As a Priest, I could not see how this vocation could grow if it was not fully connected to the Church? To follow the new monastic way meant I would have to leave my ministry in the Church.

Linda and I did move to the ‘desert’ a somewhat secluded rural area in Northumbria. Only one other family was able to join us.

The Archdeacon asked me not to attend the local Anglican Churches, in case people were confused about my status? Fortunately two of my friends were local Vicars, so an unofficial relationship was maintained. Through our regular Easter Workshops our ‘community’ began to grow, even at a distance, and so did our conflict with various Churches. Our Easter Workshops, which were normally a seven day event, were located in Northumbria with the final day taking place on Holy Island. We always tried to work and gain the support of local churches for the workshop.

In one town, we arrived at the Church who had agreed to host us, to be told by the Vicar that the Bishop had cancelled our meeting. Looking at the 60 or so people standing behind me, I informed the Vicar a booking had been made and paid for and walked passed him into the Church.

At another workshop, one of our communities had set up a meeting with all the Church leaders in a particular town. Terry, had worked hard to do this, she had spent time meeting with people privately or talking to folk on the phone. I was asked to speak at the meeting, and I shared some new monasticism themes. One of the Independent Church leaders stood up and declared me ‘psychologically unstable’ and off he went. Most of the other leaders joined him with the exception of two catholic Priests. They said we could use their Parish to host our workshop and said they could handle the occasional nutter!  It became our most creative workshop, whose themes would prepare us to embody new monasticism into a much wider community. Throughout these years of conflict with various Churches we were supported by communities from traditional monasticism: The Society of St. Francis at Alnmouth and the Community of the Transfiguration. Br Jonathan, Br Colin Wilfred, Br Ramon and Br Roland taught us the meaning of ‘constructive subversion’ in the Church.

When the Northumbria Community was founded in 1992, and we moved to our first Mother House, we had already won the trust of the local Churches. Bishop Alec of Newcastle visited Linda and I and apologized for our mistreatment by the Anglican Church. We were deeply moved by his humility and sincerity, and we accepted his invitation to have my Licence restored so I could minister as a Priest in our Community and in his Diocese. He also gave permission for the Eucharist to be celebrated in our Community Chapel by Anglican Clergy. This permission was given officially and unofficially by nearly every other expression of the One Holy Catholic Church.

The Mother House gave many more people an exposure to a new type of monasticism. They in turn, shared their experiences in their Church Communities, and the whole thing snowballed. The number of individuals and communities who have been influenced by Émigré: a new type of monasticism are too numerous to count nor is it possible to evaluate their very own distinctive contribution to Church and Society.

So, without doubt, new monasticism has got up ‘close and comfy’ with the Church in the UK…but are we in a beneficial relationship?  We can get round to that next time when we check out  ‘constructive monastic subversion.’

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