a monastic conversation

I simply had an amazing day today; and I look back on the day and I am not sure whether I am excited or terrified … and maybe it is a mixture of the two.

I was invited to a conversation that was being held with leaders of traditional Anglican monastic communities and leaders of small missional communities in the CofE that draw on a New Monastic basis. It was in the latter category that I was invited … in case you thought something had happened that you were unaware of.

I am not sure whether the gathering would call itself a new monastic community or whether we think of ourselves in that way. Certainly as a community we want to be able to live a life of integrity where our actions support our words. We are a missional community that wants to engage with the needs in the community around us. We are quite diverse and yet united by a desire to travel the journey together and we hope we will be able to achieve this, in part, as we develop our rhythm of life. Taking all that together it does sound like we may have some monastic tendencies …. but what we develop into may be something different. Hey … I don’t even know what tomorrow will bring, let alone what we will be next year!

I met up with some good friends today and was able to catch up, and I made a number of new friends which I always enjoy to do.

The format of the day was great. People told their story and in tables we chatted about the story as we sought to learn from each other and hear what is happening. My table had a good mix of people from new monastic and traditional monastic communities – so the conversation was always good.There were two particularly exciting things for me that I noticed throughout the day:

God seems to be saying similar things to diverse groups of people. On my table I had the delight of meeting Sister Mary David from the Benedictine Community of West Malling. She noted that each community, traditional and ‘new’, was very different but that all were trying to live out a faith authentically.

I was particularly encouraged by each person sharing how small their community was. I guess from the web it is easy to think that things are a lot larger than they really are and this, in turn, can cause you to feel pretty inadequate. As someone involved in a small community I was quite encouraged to hear others being and doing in small groups as well. I was also challenged by others who are living in some pretty scary places and even being shot at for their faith! I am not sure I have the courage for that!

I was struck by a few ‘gems’ of wisdom during the day:

On our table, I guess, I was keen to learn from those who have been in monastic orders for a while. We had 4 nuns on our table and when asked about sustainability we were given two bits of advice – the need to be flexible and adaptable to what is happening around you in the world and the community and change accordingly. Holding onto things and practices too preciously was not going to be honouring to God. The other ‘secret’ of sustainability was the need to take risks – a number of the traditional communities have needed to change location or how they work … and some of those changes have been very risky!

Another ‘gem’ regarding a rule of life. One sister, Joyce, spoke of the rule of life as ‘not a fence but a well to draw from and be refreshed by’ while Sister Mary David spoke of it as a ‘trellis that helps us to grow and supports us’. I find both of those images both powerful and helpful to myself as I wrestle with ‘stuff’.

I’ve already said the day was amazing. There is a lot we can learn from each other and I am really excited that these conversations will continue in some way. I am also pretty scared …. at what the outcome may entail.

Thanks everyone, particularly Ian and Abbot Stuart, for making this such an amazing day.

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