Reflecting on the New Monastic Conference

Our Prior, Canon Mark Soady  this weekend attended a Conference entitled ‘New Monasticism: A UK gathering of new forms of mission all and religious life’ at St George the Martyr at Southwark.

Over 60 existing or emerging communities were represented, all doing ‘ new monasticism’ in a slightly different way. Some are large and international like L’arche or Northumbrian Community others like St Thomas Community, Ipswich are very small. Some have a house and are a resident community others are dispersed.

Canon Phil Potter, the Archbishop’s advisor on ‘ fresh expressions’, speaking at the Saturday morning service challenged us with the need to be refreshed if we are truly ‘new’.

Fr Mark reflected in response to this challenge, that as we as a Community have a rolling change of membership we are always refreshing. New members bring new skills and new gifts which enhance the Community. This is balanced with the stability of the Prior and Sub-Prior knowing the narrative of the community- knowing what has been tried before, what are the pitfalls of the previous trials and the like.

Canon Potter went on to claim that an “Imagination of the Spirit is  needed to enable the church to go to where it needs to be.”

Fr Mark reflected that a  community like ours is freer to do the imagining and has the space to reflect and so imagine what the Spirit is calling us to do.

The beauty of such conferences as this are the little gems that come out our chat and discussion, while it is not possible to mention them all, here are two.

Blended- How New Monastic Communities are a blend of contemplation and active mission. We have noted a ‘ fault-line’ in our Community which is that we tend to attract introverts, people for whom contemplation comes easier than ‘ active mission’ . For we have found that one needs to be extrovert in order to engage with strangers, especially about such issues as faith. The Community has done well to fight against its members natural reticence to be out going and ‘force’ itself in to mission and outreach.

The Roman Catholic Canons speak of religious communities role is to support the sanctification of the church and not its structures. In the two plus years of our existence there has been that tension between serving the church and growing us and our mission. How much time do we spend talking internally to church bodies about what we do: rather than do it? How much time do we spend on ‘church maintenance’: rather than growing disciples?

Fr Mark concludes such a conference as this has given  him a time to stop and reflect what has been created over the last two years and the direction we should move on in.

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