An Urban Monastic Spirituality

In the Church of England ‘Mission-Shaped Church Report’, now over 13 years old, New Monasticism was identified as one of a number of different forms of missional Fresh Expressions of Church, which it was hoped would contribute to the renewal of the Church. This was the centrepiece of Archbishop Rowan Williams' Episcopacy and continues as an important focus for the Church of England today. Further, Archbishop Justin Welby has identified renewal of the ‘Religious Life’ and Prayer as two central elements to his Episcopacy, where he has invited new monastic communities to play their part in renewing old and new approaches to intentional Christian Community and ancient expressions of contemplative prayer. This lies at the heart of the new monastic Community that Archbishop Justin has planted as its Abbot at the St Anselm Community at Lambeth Palace, that gives an opportunity for Christian young adults to participate in a Rhythm of Life centred around prayer, work and action for a year.

‘New Monasticism’ first appeared as a term in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, where in a letter to his brother from prison shortly before his death he wrote:

'...the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but 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...'

In fact you could argue that there has always been a monastic spiritual essence in the Church of England given that founders and Archbishop Cranmer with the Book of Common Prayer drew so heavily on monastic and mendicant contemplative spirituality and liturgy. Writers such as the wonderfully named Phyllis Tickle has said that most of the renewal movements of the Church have drawn heavily on monastic spirituality.

In the Diocese of Southwark we now have two recognised and authorised New Monastic Communities – the Wellspring Community in Peckham and the Community of St Margaret the Queen in Streatham. Both of these communities were inspired by the pioneering Moot Community now in the City of London in the Diocese of London which began at the Parish Church of St Matthews Westminster.

At the heart of these communities is a hunger to go deeper with contemplative prayer, community living and loving service. As such many of these new monastic communities are drawing on a fusion of Ignatian, Benedictine and Franciscan spirituality providing a broad framework to help these small communities to go deep with a distinctly Christian spirituality in the context of a culture that is increasing seeking greater significance, experience and meaning. This is not new. Fr Gareth Powell, (the Priest Missioner and Prior to the St Margaret the Queen Community in Streatham) in his PhD thesis drew on the work of Bishop Westcott to remind us that the vision of the Oxford Movement and the refounding of Religious Communities back into the Church of England in the 19th Century shared this DNA of a monastic spirituality, often in the Urban Context.

On Sunday 21st May, before Bishop Christopher, twelve people made a commitment to seasonal vows and a further six made commitments to be part of the Wellspring Community at their spiritual home of St Luke’s (Camberwell) in Peckham. These eighteen people of diverse age and ethnicities seek to play their part in the renewal of the Church in Peckham.

The pattern of weekly daily prayer and Sunday evening Contemplative Worship Services in the Church; a communal meal on Tuesdays in the Clergy House; and a commitment to prayerful action is not rocket science, yet there is a hunger to go deeper into the spiritual life of obediently following the way of Jesus as set out in the gospels.

Authentic Christian spirituality then is essentially at the heart of this movement – Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, John Main Anchor Word Meditation, Ignatian ways to pray with the Bible, the list is endless. Yet a mature approach into the depth of this tradition is essential if this renewal of the Religious Life is truly going to bring renewal to the Church and its mission.

- Ian Mobsby

Ian Mobsby is the Prior to the Wellspring Community, Priest in Charge St Luke’s (Camberwell) in Peckham and the Mission Enabler in the Woolwich Episcopal Area. Ian is a co-opted member of the ‘Advisory Council of the Relationships between Diocesan Bishops and Religious Communities’ and an Associate Missioner of the Fresh Expressions movement in the UK.