In their book Longing for Spring (2010) American Wesleyan Methodist Scholars Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker note the emergence of new monastic movements throughout history and make connections with Methodism as it was originally practiced and intended. They understand new monasticism to be a holiness movement committed to serious, intentional formation as a disciple just as Methodism was in its earliest moments.
They note that while many have chosen to leave Methodism there are also an increasing number of Methodists who feel called to a more rigorous faith, to holiness of heart and life. They suggest that New Monasticism can offer Methodism the practices and energy to rediscover its original calling. Heath offers a vision of three forms of Methodist Monasticism that might be developed:
- An apostolic, contemplative, Methodist monastic network.
- The development of Methodist new monastic intentional communities that are anchored in existing congregations.
- The development of new Methodist monastic church starts.
The Mission Commitment
The Leeds South and West Methodist Circuit has committed itself to begin pioneering these three forms of Methodist New Monastic Mission
What is New Monasticism?
At its most general new monasticism names any movement of renewal which seeks to place serious intentional discipleship at its heart. Most often such movements are understood as passionate responses to a church perceived to have grown cold and complacent.
More precisely new monasticism takes its inspiration and practice from the ancient practices of monastic traditions. Specifically the use of a rule of life to shape and support the development of discipleship, the practice of a rhythm and pattern of sustained prayer and finally the practice of loving accountability and community. Generally these practices are also grounded in profound and serious commitments to mission and justice in the wider world and community
There are a great many experiments in new monastic practice and spirituality across the world at the present time. Many recent experiments draw their foundational inspiration from the following quote from Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffor from a letter to his brother,
‘the restoration of the church will surely come from a new sort of monasticism which has in common with the old only the uncompromising attitude of a life lived according to the Sermon on the Mount in the following of Christ."Dietrich Bonhoeffor
What is Old Methodism?
At the heart of old Methodism is a profound commitment to serious intentional discipleship as a means to growing in grace and holiness. Methodists sometimes call this growth towards Christian perfection. It is understood as part of a theology of grace that, begins with prevenient grace, is profoundly experienced as saving grace and then comes to its fulness and flourishing in perfecting or sanctifying grace in the life of the disciple. Central to this discipleship was the practice of the means of grace, (prayer, bible study, fellowship, holy communion and the class meeting.)
At his followers request Wesley also wrote a first rule for Methodist people in three parts, advising them of the those practical things they should avoid, those positive things which they should practice and encouraging, finally, those spiritual practices and habits which held the whole thing together. In order to make the rule work he formed classes and appointed class leaders to encourage disciples and to make regular and honest enquiry as to what they were doing and how they were faring. It was a very practical discipleship.
Modern expressions of Methodism still retain the Methodist membership ticket and the deeply profound annual covenant service. In most places however that serious commitment to intentional discipleship, the need and desire for holiness and growth in grace and the practice of loving accountability, quaintly but beautifully expressed in the Methodist phrase;
“watching over one another in love”
have been lost. There are many reasons for this loss but the outcome has been challenging if not devastating for our church life. A commitment to ‘Old Methodism’ then implies at the very least this recovery of intentional serious discipleship and the commitment to holiness, a renewed spirituality and practice rooted in a theology of grace and the practices of a loving accountability.