New Form for Community

The more things change, the more they remain the same.
There is a group of us, former students at General Theological Seminary (GTS) that are in discussion about a new form of Christian community that allows us to work together for an authentic Christian life. Interestingly, Christian Century magazine recently published an article on “The New Monastics: Alternative Christian Communities” being expressed by many young people in the U.S. Taize may be another example of this, although the Taize Community has been around for some time, relatively speaking. We can also see similar examples in intentional Christian communities like Jesus People USA near Chicago, or the Sojourners Community near Washington D.C. Likewise, we see similar desires expressed in the Bruderhof Communities. This desire within us for intentional Christian community is nothing new, today or in centuries past.
Yet, here we are with our desire to experience more than what we have thus far. What do we do with this desire? My living situation at GTS expressed some form of this desire and its possible reality. I lived with two to three other guys in an experimental “co-op” living arrangement in a very large apartment at GTS. Basically, the administration put people together who did not know each other beforehand and who wanted to be in such a living arrangement. So, different groups of us – four at most – lived intentionally in community for three years. Three of us stayed together for two years. Two of us, Nick and I, remained in the apartment for all three years, with two new guys our last year. Honestly, we were basically roommates, but all of us were at GTS for the same purpose of being formed for the priesthood, so we shared unique things that normal roommates may not. It was good. I miss it, even though what those of us in this conversation are thinking suggests a much higher level of commitment and community.
So much of our culture is so antithetical to what I sense, as do others, to be a more highly authentic Christian life which incorporates simple living, prayer & worship, fellowship, accountability, challenge & support, ministry and service. I suspect this might at one time have been rightfully called “community.” All around us, our culture encourages crass materialism as a standard form for life, hyper-activity, hyper-individualism, gratuitous violence, inconsequential sex, uncritical trendiness & superficiality, irresponsibility, and the culture does not encourage deep and critical thinking. I’m not fearful of any of these things – there are positive aspects held within each, but our culture is taking them all to the extreme. They get in the way of a peaceable life, a life centered on the Christian disciplines surrounding the being and doing of “loving mercy, doing justly, and walking humbly with God.”
The local church, the parish, might seem to be the place where this desire can be worked out. Perhaps. Yet, as my friend John states in his rendition of these thoughts, the local parish church is where the world meets the Gospel. As such, the parish church is generally very broad as it tries to accommodate such a wide spectrum of belief, desire, and spiritual maturity. The parish church introduces people to the Gospel and starts them down the path of Christian formation. What is the next step for those wanting more – a deeper sense of community, a deeper devotion to God, and more intense and intentional experience of the authentic Christian life? Generally, this next step is very difficult to accomplish and experience in a local parish church.
Monastic communities have traditionally been where those wishing for such an intense experience have gone. What if some are not given the gift of celibacy or feel called to a solitary life? I envision a very similar kind of experience, but where there may be single people, families, men and women, young and old, people who work full-time, people with vocations of prayer like a traditional monastic, and people who may just be passing through for a time.
There are examples of such living out there, I know. I am curious what those of us in this conversation will come up with.
I have said to a few that since this particular Church does not put its money where its mouth is concerning campus ministry, that we begin a society or monastic-like community that dedicates itself to ministry to college students and the secular university. We pool our resources, we raise funds, we pioneer new works, and provide for those called to such a ministry – we live intentionally in community for the furtherance of the ministry, and to provide a place for training and discernment for those considering campus ministry as their vocation. We provide a place where those in direct ministry and those in supportive roles can be together.
I don’t know how this might work.
What I do know is that I want to live in community. I need the support, encouragement, wisdom, and challenge of other like-minded fellow sojourners as we strive to be conformed to the image of Christ and be with Him in all things.