‘New Monasticism’ as a term was first attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In response to the Nazi control of the German Lutheran Church at the time of the Second World War, he set up communities of resistance that might be seen as a new approach to the religious life. In a letter sent to his brother before he died in 1945, he said that “…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism…” which would display “…a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…”
Since 1945, there has been a revival in the place of Christian Communities living out a sense of community, loving service, and rhythm of life. The Iona Community was one of the first, followed by others including the Northumbria Community. More recently, New Monasticism was named as one of the forms of Fresh Expressions of Church in the “Mission Shaped Church” Report of the Church of England, for which a number of diocesan-funded initiatives have grown up. These tend to have the following commitments to:
- A Rhythm of Daily Life and seasonal vows or promises
- Contemplative forms of prayer and meditation
- Spiritual practices and radical community
- Missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community
These Fresh Expressions included the Society of the Holy Trinity, Contemplative Fire, the Aidan & Hilda Community, the Mustard Seed Community, the Scargill Movement (Skipton), the St Thomas Pilgrim Community (Ipswich), the St Thomas Community (Derby), the Wellspring Community (Peckham), the John Marshall Community (central London), and the Moot Community (central London).
In the last few years, Archbishop Justin announced a first priority of his archiepiscopate as the renewal of prayer and the religious life. This has included the encouragement of new monasticism. The St Anselm Community, a residential community based in Lambeth Palace, has given young adults selected from around the world the opportunity to live a life of prayer, community and loving service for up to a year. This model is now being expanded to the Tree of Life Community, Leicester Cathedral and Sheffield Cathedral, with others also considering this model.
Anglican New Monastic Communities are now present in many dioceses in the Church of England and beyond. Many are in the process of becoming ‘acknowledged’ religious communities. For more information on New Monasticism, see the New Monastic UK Network.