New Monasticism was named as one of the first recognised types of fresh expressions of church in the ground-changing ‘Mission Shaped Church Report’.
Early in 2015, a few participants of the Moot Community, a new monastic community in the City of London, moved to the Parish of St Luke’s Church in North Peckham, some living together in the clergy house with Ian Mobsby, the then new Priest-in-Charge, and some living locally in Peckham with the vision of enabling St Luke’s to become a ‘mixed economy’ parish of the traditional and experimental working together in one parish. As with other new monastic communities, the vision of this particular expression can be understood as 4 characteristics:
- A commitment to a Rhythm of Daily Life
- A commitment to contemplative forms of prayer and meditation
- A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community
- A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.
(See www.ianmobsby.net for more info on these characteristics)
After a period of contextual listening, I produced a report of all the conversations I had had with people in and outside the Church, and in particular in the Parish of St Luke’s. It was clear that the Church Sunday Morning Eucharist congregation had become completely disconnected from the lives of those in the Parish who did not attend this service. Further, North Peckham Had become an increasing mix of Latino and Hispanic people, young more ‘hipster’ type students studying in the local Camberwell School of Art and the University of the Arts Camberwell, first and second generation settlers from West Africa and the Caribbean, and a residual white working class who had a history of living in Peckham from the last century. St Luke’s was highly representative of the West African and Caribbean ethnicities of the parish, but everyone else was absent. After careful planning and consideration, an Evening Service congregation combined with the New Monastic Community was brought together to try and redress balance of St Luke’s reflecting the different people’s living in Peckham. So the New Monastic Community was the first fresh expression of church we planted, and was from the start a glorious mix of all the ethnicities of the local area.
So yesterday on the 10th June 2018, the community gathered to make different forms of seasonal annual promises before God and the gathered community depending on their particular stage of faith, from those who self-identify themselves as either companions, associates, participants and professed. The unique advantage of a ‘new monastic’ model of ecclesial community drawing on the many traditional religious communities, is their covenantal focus on Christianity not just being a system of thinking – but also a profound way of life. This is commonly understood to be a ‘rhythm of life’ that engages with the focus of seeking to be follow the way of Jesus. Like all religious communities, the key Gospel text is Jesus’ New Commandment drawing on the Jewish Shema ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One, you are to love the Lord your God, with your heart, mins and strength, and love your Neighbour as yourself’. Or as a more learned Benedictine Abbot once said ‘to learn to receive the love of God to transform your life, to then to learn to accept and love yourself, so that you can love others in forms of loving service’. This for New Monastic Christians is the focus of the Christian life. So last night 11 people affirmed the seasonal vows of the community which were:
- Prayer & Devotion
- Learning & Reconciliation
- Service & Hospitality
- Work & Wellbeing
And 5 committed to join in the worship, mission and community life, with the plan to commit to the seasonal vows next time, and 3 committed to be associates, who are either entering some form of vocational testing or training, or helping to set up new monastic communities locally.
We hope this community not only help the ‘de-and-unchurched’ to experience a deep and healthy example of ‘church’, but also that such communities will become key places for engagement with the now many who call themselves ‘spiritual not religious’.
So the community is now developing its mission, again thinking that mission has a lot of broad meanings that includes social economic and ecological justice, but also hospitality and welcome alongside the more ‘softer’ forms of evangelism through dialogue and spiritual experience. We have begun discussions with the Pecan Centre (www.pecan.org.uk) to support their work with those who are really struggling, and at the same begun a ‘spiritual not religious’ dialogue group in the local bar – The Peckham Pelican. We are a small missional community, but we hope that this focus on a daily rhythm of worship, mission and community, and the intention of ‘prayerful-action’, that this small community can begin to reach out and open up the Gospel of Jesus to the many who are seeking for significance, meaning and belonging, in a world that is increasingly unloving and harsh.
Ian Mobsby is the Priest in Charge of St Lukes Church in Peckham that seeks to be a mixed economy parish. He has founded a number of fresh expressions of Church including the Epicentre Network and thé Moot Community. He is also thé Woolwich Area Mission Enabler assisting parishes to explore mission in the local context and has written a number of books. For more info see www.ianmobsby.net