Upon being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby set himself three priorities for his archiepiscopate: The renewal of prayer and Religious Life throughout the church, the churches role in reconciliation as a peacemaker, and encouraging every Christian to share their faith. It was under the first of these headings that the New Monastic Leaders Conference was held last week at Lambeth Palace and St Andrew’s Church, Southwark.
Over thirty new monastic communities were represented from around the UK, as well as visitors from the USA and Australia.
At the welcome to the conference Rev’d Ian Mobsby of the New monastics network spoke passionately and eloquently about the role of new monasticism in recontextualising the church for a new generation who are seeking answers to questions of faith and seeking a sense of belonging and a face of humanity in a world where people are increasingly alienated. He also shared an exciting vision of new monastic communities as a means of meeting the need for apostolic ministry – the gathering together and sending of the people of God. The growth and spread of new monasticism, he argued, is a call for action against the enormous poverty in our society as individuals seek to follow a calling that gives a great sense of belonging, is profoundly transformative and deeply giving.
The conference was structured around Ignatian principles of listening to others, which were led by the Chemin Neuf Community and the The St Thomas Way Community. We were invited to listen prayerfully and attentively, and we spent regular periods of companionable silence at the end of our small group sharing sessions: time to digest what had been discussed and to offer it to God, invoking the presence and action of the Holy Spirit to speak to us through our longing for community.
Within the Ignatian principles we heard a Story of Consolation from the Northumbria Community, through which they shared the moments of great blessing and joy in the building of community. We heard stories of everyday miracles from unexpected places, and ways in which living in community can set people free to do what they are meant to be doing all their lives.
To balance this we also heard a Story of Desolation from a member of the Chemin Neuf Community, which offered a profound reflection on ministering to others from a place of desolation, as Jesus did on the cross. It addressed the fact that in new monasticism and in fresh expressions and pioneer ministry we take risks, often walking on ‘fault lines’ between communities, within communities, and in dangerous places which may bring us suffering, but which are ultimately for good. We were reminded that in striking out into new ground we are often called to stand in difficult places which can bring individuals and instiotutions top their limits, but are prophetic for the sake of the kingdom. Desolation, we were encouraged, may be a point on your journey as a community, but it is not the destination. It was Martin Luther King who coined the phrase ‘suffering has it’s own alchemy’.
We were greatly blessed by Archbishop Justin’s perspective through our plenary, and it was wonderful to hear a church leader so keen to be associated with new monastic communities and the movement of new monasticism in the church. ‘It’s entirely beyond our control’ he said ‘and that is a wonderful thing’. ‘If the church isn’t doing things that aren’t incomprehensible to people outside then it’s not doing what it should.’ The archbishop went on to emphasise his dedication to the message ‘communities matter’ and that by celebrating vocational community ‘celebration puts possibilities into peoples minds’. He went on to discuss the dedication of his chaplain to a vocations system that would offer a central website for those considering vocations to community alongside ordained ministry. It would be wonderful to think that the Church in Wales would be similarly forward thinking in committing to and affirming the message ‘communities matter’. Christian life lived in community is, Archbishop Justin concluded, ‘the aspect of the churches life which is purely about God’.
The conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet people from a wide variety of different new monastic communities, all of which took a very broad variety of incarnations. I came away convinced of the important work God has entrusted to us as a new monastic community here in this place, and excited that in ministering through those moments of both consolation and desolation we, the Holywell Community, are a part of something much bigger and more wonderful in God’s church than cannot yet be fully grasped or comprehended.Sub Prior