Research Spotlight: The new monasticism

'Reverse tornado' of neo-monasticismIn search of a simple community life devoted to worship and social activism over program-driven church, some Christians today have chosen a “new monastic” lifestyle, taking a spiritual path that blends aspects of ancient monasticism with 21st-century church practices.

“Traditionally we think of evangelism as a tornado that moves through town and gathers everyone into the vortex of our church,” says the Rev. Elaine Heath, McCreless Assistant Professor of Evangelism in SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and director of Perkins’ Center for the Advanced Study and Practice of Evangelism. “In the neo-monastic model, evangelism is the ‘reverse tornado’ described in Luke 10: Going out into the community, being invited into our neighbors’ lives and sharing the goodness of God.”

The recipient of a Sam Taylor Fellowship from the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Heath is writing two books about emerging neo-monastic communities in the United States. A Summer Research Fellowship from the Wabash Center will enable her to spend time at several neo-monastic communities, including Communality in Lexington, Kentucky, and Camden House in Camden, New Jersey.

“I’m very interested in how neo-monasticism relates to the rest of the church and how it will shape the church and the church will shape it,” she says. Although no statistics are available on the number of new monastic communities in the United States, she says the grassroots movement is growing. “The rest of the church can learn much from the new monasticism,??? Heath says, including regaining “a sense of parish, of being the church for the neighborhood, and disciplined spiritual practices and a rule of life for ordinary Christians.”

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