Report on the Inhabiting the Church conference in Indianapolis, IN June 1 and 2, 2007
On Thursday afternoon five of us men from Jesus People USA set out for Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis for a New Monasticism (NM) conference called “Inhabiting the Church.” I had known about New Monasticism for quite sometime, having kept in touch with workers with Christian Peacemaker Teams, one of whom is related to a member here at JPUSA. I stocked NM books at our book booth at Cornerstone Festival last year and am doing so again this year. At the conference we each received a copy of the new book Inhabiting the Church: Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism, which is cowritten by members from different communities within NM.
We at JPUSA weren’t quite sure what part we played in this group. I felt a little awkward going in, wondering what people thought of us and what we’re doing in Chicago. But after arriving it felt like a homecoming in many ways. We were welcomed with arms open wide and folks were more than eager to hear our experiences. There were a lot of books and a lot of good teaching present, but what thrilled us the most was the openness, the desire to understand without cynicism, and the free willingness to connect and improvise. We at JPUSA did not start out to be a community and we’ve never felt like a school of community per se, though many do come to Chicago looking to learn from us. Other communities like Reba Place and the Bruderhof (well that’s their old name anyway) were present to teach from their experience, and they have people trained in teaching communal living.
There were different kinds of interests in mind at this meeting. There were folks like us who lived in older and larger communities. There were those in small communities that represent New Monasticism. There were those just starting out with one or two other people in apartments who wanted to know more about how it might work. Then there were co-ops of different sorts, and church people curious about how to apply the ideas here to new ways of sharing and belonging that didn’t involve moving into one building or putting their money in a common purse. This plurality of involvement was truly refreshing! I hope that connections were made here that can inspire conversations in the long term for years to come. We in the Body of Christ need each other more than ever. Its so nice to know that the Kingdom is at work in each of us but is not limited to us, to our small expressions. And it is so nice to see that spirit of openness at work among us today.
If you want to read more on the roots of New Monasticism, Chris Smith of Doulos Christou Books has prepared an extended bibliography titled “An Introductory Bibliography of the New Monasticism.” (ISBN 1-934406-00-7). I believe they want three dollars for it.
There were four sessions on two days led by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Rutba House in Durham NC and Tim Otto of Church of the Sojourner in San Francisco. I think my favorite of the four was Tim’s final session titled “The Only Solution is Love.” He shared a message from John Alexander, founder and spiritual mentor at Church of the Sojourners in which the Lord told John, “You deepest need is not to be admired, but to be loved.” That really resonated with me. He also shared this thought, I believe, from St. Therese of Lisieux: “My vocation is to be loved in the heart of the church.”
I attended two different workshops, the first from a married couple from the Bruderhof on commitment in community and the second was a group discussion with Mike Bowler of Engelwood Christian Church that explored the idea of “Sharing All Things in Common.” They were both wonderful for the open discussions on what it means to commit longterm and what it means to try and live by Acts 2 in this day and age.
I was blessed to be able to spend time chatting with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I told him I’d been thinking about Rutba and praying for them for some time. I shared some of my own mixed experiences in community and shared some thoughts to the effect that I feared for the immediate future. I don’t know that that was helpful. I’m really pleased that they have such a nice support structure in Shalom Mission Communities. He assured me that they really do value our prayers.
It was a tremendous blessing to be able to attend this. I’ll be basking in the memories for years to come. I only regret that I had to leave my Kitchen duty buddies hanging on Saturday. In essence someone paid someone to do my job so that I could be gone. Thanks for picking up my slack guys!