Huge new monastery

Have you read about the New Mount Carmel project? A group of Roman Catholics are working to build a huge Carmelite monastery in the mountains of Wyoming. The relatively strict and conservative Carmelite order has seen a great influx of young people making monastic professions, and seeks to create a new place of prayer and retreat that will house many of them, in addition to welcoming visitors. The new monastery will be modeled on the great gothic monasteries of Medieval Europe.

This project is one more embodiment of the movement among many young people back towards more traditional forms of Christianity (see, for example, Colleen Carroll's book The New Faithful). While one or two of my (not so young) seminary professors believed that the way for the church to reach the young was to accomodate the culture and water-down our theology and disciplines (because these were supposedly seen as non-credible to today's young people), as a young pastor I believe that the way forward is to recover the ancient heritage of the whole Church catholic.

For United Methodists walking this way will mean recovering our own Anglican heritage and liturgical tradition, passed along to us by John Wesley from the Anglican Prayerbook; and a recovery of Wesley's own love of the Bible and the Early Church Fathers.

Some progress is aleady being made: there is already a growing renewed emphasis on the great Wesleyan practice of Rule of Life and personal accountability to the rule (as we see in the popularity of Bishop Job's book, Three Simple Rules), and this is surely a move in the right direction. There are even a couple of Wesleyan neo-monastic houses springing up (such as the New Day Community).

There is currently a great deal of talk about re-structuring the United Methodist Church and about finding new ways to measure effectiveness ("metrics" is the buzz-word). I think we have a moment of great opportunity here, when leaders at every level of the church's life recognize that something new needs to happen and are (perhaps) even willing to give it a try. It seems quite obvious to me, however, that while tweaking the structures, streamlining the bureacracy, finding better metrics of effectivenss and making better use of money are all important, the real renewal needs to be one of prayer, worship, and spiritual discipline.

If individuals are truly and transformatively encountering the presence and power of God's Spirit in our worship services and sacraments; if preachers are truly opening people's hearts and minds to the depths of the mysteries of the living Word of God - then it won't really matter how the General Boards and Agencies of the Church are structured or what metrics are being used to evaluate the local churches: the church will thrive because it is truly being the Church - truly being the covenant community sharing in the life of the Trinity by the present power of the Spirit whom Christ sends from the Father (Jn. 15:26).

Observers are surely right when they say that clergy leadership will be key in affecting the renewal of the church. But it is Christ-centerted Spiritual leadership that we most deeply need at this moment in the Church's life. "Offer them Christ" was the instruction that John Wesley gave to all of his travelling preachers, and it is still illustrates our deepest need. If the whole lifestyle of our clergy and lay leaders is oriented around this one passion, "Offer them Christ," then of course we will be motivated to learn about the best management practices and vision casting techniques to share with our communities. In other words, we need to learn again the teaching of our Lord, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).

Perhaps a greater emphasis on seeking to teach and embody the Kingdom of Shalom, and live unto the holy righteousness of God (not diluting its demands to accomadate the passing values of our current culture) is the sort of Call to Action that needs to resound like a great tower-bell through every conference and corner of the United Methodist Church.

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