Last week I started a series on this blog on Religion, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Northern Ireland, based on a paper I recently gave at the ‘Religious Conflict and Difference’ conference at Stranmillis College in Belfast. Today I continue the series with a post on one of the three of the ‘grassroots tactics’ that I think Christians (both lay and clerical, as Fr Martin Magill has reminded us) could adopt when advocating reconciliation and reconstruction:
- Educational Programmes
- The Principles of Neo-Monastic Living
- Liturgical Reforms
Today’s post considers ‘principles of neo-monastic living.’
Some of what is said below will resonate with an upcoming conference organised by the Centre for Contemporary Christianity on 9 November at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, ‘Prophetic Voices from the Margins: The Contemporary Witness of Celts, Anabaptists and New Monastic Movements.’ The event features Stuart Murray Williams of the Anabaptist Network and Roy Searle from the Northumbria Community.
Principles of Neo-Monastic Living
Neo-monasticism is a movement within Western Christianity that is characterised by commitment to the immediate members of an ‘intentional community,’ and service in the local context (Marti and Ganiel 2013: chapter 5, Bielo 2011, Cray Mobsby and Kennedy 2010). Neo-monastics may live together in a single house, in houses near each other, or in ‘dispersed’ community. Neo-monastic living often involves forms of communal prayer and worship such as lectio divinia or Taizé liturgies, which permit people from all Christian traditions to join in without violating conscience or church law.
Corrymeelaand the Columbanus Community, among others, were intentional ecumenical communities that sought to transcend Northern Ireland’s denominational boundaries (Power 2007: 118-164). For them, serving in their local context meant recognising religion’s role in contributing to division and violence, and living together as a witness to counter those divisions. Some communities may have engaged in direct social or political activism in consultation with the communities around them. But what is more important for my argument is that by modelling ecumenical living in a divided society, they are seeking to transcend or operate outside of Northern Ireland’s sectarian structures.
It is unlikely that every Christian in Northern Ireland would feel ready or able to commit to an intentional ecumenical neo-monastic community, even a dispersed one (like Corrymeela). But other churches and Christian groups could borrow from their principles; for instance, by seeking to transcend sectarianism by creating opportunities to pray and worship together.
For example, ISE founder Michael Hurley advocated ‘ecumenical tithing,’a commitment for Christians to spend a significant percentage of their time in worship and service with Christians from a tradition other than their own (Hurley 1998: 78). While individual Christians could pledge to do this, ecumenical tithing would have a greater impact if there were congregational initiatives to support it.
This is where the neo-monastic principle of committing to, and receiving support from, other like-minded ‘pilgrims’ could be applied. So, the Unity Pilgrims of Clonard Monastery in Belfast could be considered best practice in communal ecumenical tithing. Each week, they join a different Protestant congregation for worship on a Sunday morning, sharing in the experience and building up relationships over time. Or local clergy and church fora could agree to do far more together than they currently do, including sharing baptismal services (Pierce 2008).
The effectiveness of such initiatives would be enhanced if on set occasions, churches closed for a particular service and encouraged their members to attend a service at another church, preferably of a different denomination. Doing this would communicate to their own members, and the surrounding community, that it is possible to transcend some of the perceived structural barriers to joint Christian fellowship.
(My next post in the series will discuss liturgical reforms)
Religion, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Northern Ireland: Some Initial Reflections (Part 1)– includes a bibliography of academic research on religion and reconciliation in Northern Ireland
(Image: Corrymeela in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland)