Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Do you think this could be a possibility? Perhaps not quite a monastery in the strictest sense of the word, since Quakers don't have a hierarchy, but an ummah(community) living together, pooling their resources together, and living and working according to Quaker testimony and scripture?
Consider the eighteenth century British Navy. A community - imposed - but a community nonetheless.
I'm by no means suggesting that we bring back putting people in irons, restricting food, lashes, and other punishments they had. The communities had very strict rules and regulations for a reason, and THEY WORKED.
I think that is the reason so many traditional High Church organisations survived. They had and have the rules to keep the community running smoothly - if we did, theoretically, create a commune, obviously I think we would all prefer to decide on the rules as a group, rather than have them imposed on us, but rules there would have to be, to keep the community from imploding.
Karen Mercer said:
This is the thicket that has brought down every intentional new monastic group I know of, and as Sarah noted, the conflicts usually center around money, sex and power. People in contemporary society are not accustomed to giving up rights in these, or any other, areas, and community is always what suffers. Usually the problem is an unwillingness to have any rules or "judgements" on members' behaviour. "Anarchist commune" is an oxymoron. They collapse, the strict orders (whether Catholic or Buddhist) survive.
T. Vail Palmer, Jr. said:
I was a member of the Baring Street Fellowship (mentioned by William F.Rushby). This was a small group -- four families at its largest. I think Rushby's 3rd paragraph pretty much sums up the thicket that brought us down. My judgment is that we lacked any structure of process for resolving interpersonal conflicts that arose within the group.
I was just talking with a Presbyterian friend the other day about why the Catholic and Orthodox churches have managed to stay relatively united when Protestant and other churches tend to split whenever theological issues arise. He is a strong supporter of John Calvin, but he still expresses the desire to be a member of one of the aforementioned churches because of their commitment to a strict set of rules.
Just as someone had mentioned earlier, Anabaptists also tend to be successful in their communities because they set strict rules AND follow through with reprimanding those who violate them. It has a lot to do with what focus one's childhood community encourages- emphasis of community or individualism. Anabaptists typically lean towards a community emphasis as part of their core teachings, and this is why it just naturally succeeds.
I guess the success of such a group would totally depend on how committed its members are to the mission it is trying to accomplish, as well as how humble members could be in admitting faults and accepting those punishments that are decided.
Going back to David's first reply - off the top of my head, when I think about a Quaker community such as we are discussing here, I'm thinking about a building (maybe a compound with various buildings, for privacy? I'm not entirely sure) with a room for each person (or couple) and then various communal spaces - kitchen, dining room, lounge - for example.
A selection process - interview? Probrationary period?
A rota of jobs - cleaning, cooking and so on.
I'm running out of ideas. As I said, it is more of a thought experiment at the moment...
How interesting to find this discussion on QuakerQuaker. I am usually so caught up with my own rather narrow set of involvements, I rarely look to see what else is happening. But this topic is of great interest to me. I am what I call a CatholicQuaker. I have been unable to tease apart my need for both the Tradition and the experience of a more mystical and complete religious commitment, so I basically do both. I got VERY interested in the ideas of Ann Riggs that I read in an article she wrote some years ago: http://quest.quaker.org/issue1-3.html (in case you are interested). She is presently Head of the Friends Theological College in Kenya.
I am an "attender" of Westbury Monthly Meeting and have not ever been part of an "intentional community" such as many of you have. I am where I am. I worked for many years at a Quaker school here on Long Island and am presently semi-retired. I think there is a great desire among many deeply committed Christians - Friends and perhaps outside of Friends - who seek to find some sense of living daily in all their "worldly" involvements (working, family, political work, charitable involvements and simple interactions with people) a sense of complete dedication to being Christ's presence in this life. We already are a community, and modern technology gives us at least the bare bones of being in touch if not daily in a physical sense, at least in a kind of mystical union. I am thankful to see the efforts all have made.
Margaret Banford said:
Perhaps it is inappropriate - but then again perhaps not. Some of these traditions have endured for centuries, and there is a reason that they have done so. I find that admirable.
I am quite new to Quakerism, so I am not familiar with the traditions you speak of. As Sarah says, some of the traditions such as communal prayer are common to both the 'high church' and Quakerism.
This is only a discussion, at the moment; I'm not going to go out tomorrow and start a commune! I'm just turning ideas over in my head and seeing what other people say and think.
William F Rushby said:
I wonder about the appropriateness of borrowing models of community from the "high church" traditions. Wouldn't it be better to draw upon Quaker or other similar traditions to provide a context for thinking about "community"?
Friends, thank you for starting this discussion. Earlier this year I was also considering this in my life, and I actually visited an ecumenical Christian Community with whom I occasionally worship with and indirectly work with during the week (my office is 10 minutes walk from the Chapel). I strongly support the aims of this community in Hamburg.
Upon visiting the community and amongst other things looking at the accommodation, I then slept on it. I came to realise that I am not suited to live in this particular community at this particular time, esp. in the long term for a variety of reasons. Although I have not gone through the discernment process with other Friends, I knew deep down that I can continue to work regularly and worship every so often with them, but my personality and my deeply held Quaker beliefs are fundamentally at odds with several of the 1st coming of Christ high church members there. As a Briggs-Meyer Personality type ENFP (Extraversion Intuition Feeling Percieving) that throws in another dimension (Challenge) to intentional community based living.
Thank you William Rusby, I only have limited experiences of Mennonite shared communities, but they seem better at keeping their shared community going. In fact the one I know better in southern Germany (Bammental) several members are active in similar peace work. When I am in the area, there are often 2 − 4 Quakerly Friends of the Truth at the Mennonite church service (Gottesdienst). In fact they have built expectant waiting upon the Lord into their service after the sermon and at the end prior to the blessing.
I have since changed a few things in my life, moved flat, recommencing my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams, and my interactions with others have helped me realise where and how I can begin to nuture my faith. For example we have formed an English language Spiritual book club (1 Mennonite, 2 Quakers and a friend of Friends).
Although my current Friends Worship Community is sometimes a struggle since Christ knocked on my door and I let him in, I know deep down that as a spirit-filled Christ follower and quaking quaker, I need to be around those that understand the radical but primitive Christianity revisited that some of us Friends, cherish, nourish and feel inspired about.
Within Europe, I believe there will a time when several of us will feel moved to try and set up such a faithful community.
No. Supporting the weak is a basic strength of the Society of Friends. That's not something basic to monks and nuns. Monks and Nuns concentrate on God but don't trust themselves or God that they can be transformed in the image of Christ while in the midst of a world of temptation. They tend to dwell on the evil in themselves and the world instead of the divine in His creation. At least that's my opinion. I am more familiar with attempts to create small communities than monasteries and in looking back I see the weakness in such attempts as a misunderstanding of our purpose. Jesus said no one puts a light under a bushel and that is what Monasteries and Nunneries and to some extent, covenant communities are about, unfortunately.
I'd like to raise a related possibility. In Catholic and Episcopaelian Churches there is a type of hermit, I think they are called canonical hermits because they are accepted into the status of hermit according to a rule in canon law. My limited observation of the role these hermits play is that they remain a part of the community. Usually, for example, they attend mass on a weekly basis. But they also practice as hermits in the sense that they follow a daily formal practice; usually consisting of prayer and some scriptural reading.
Might something similar to this work in a Quaker context? For example, if someone had a calling to a hermit life, a life devoted to prayer, would this be something that could be made room for in terms of Quaker Faith and Practice? The writings of Quaker Discipline/Faith and Practice already cover a lot of behavioral ground. It seems to me it would be possible to include a hermit type of calling within the overall embrace of Faith and Practice.
In the Catholic and Episcopal cases someone who wants to be a hermit brings that calling to their priest. There follows meetings and discussions about the calling and if it is determined that the calling is genuine, then a rule for the hermit is developed. There is a ceremony that marks the change in status.
For a Quaker context, if someone felt a calling to be a hermit, that would be brought to a Clearance Committe for discussion and discernment. If the calling was seen to be genuine the Clearance Committee and the would-be hermit would work together about what specific practices, such as prayer, silent contemplation, scripture reading, etc., would work best. This could be presented to the Meeting for further discernment and, ultimately, approved by the Meeting. At least that is what I would see as a parallel process. I think the Catholic and Episcopal usage is balanced; it keeps the hermit from going off into someting too eccentric or individualistic and brings the hermit regularly back into the community. A rough equivalent for Quakers would be similarly balanced; under the care of a Meeting the hermit would be less likely to fall into practices that are not nourishing but are, rather, individualistic, eccentric, perhaps neurotic. And by regularly attending Meeting the Quaker Hermit would be able to bring the insights of solitude to the larger community. Both the Meeting and the Hermit would benefit.
Obstacles to this are that it would be something new, and probably strange, for many Quakers. For the activist Quakers I think there would be an almost instinctual dislike of someone who seeks a life of withdrawal and hiddenness as a hermit. Even so, I think these could be overcome with the usual Quaker virtues of tenderness and patience.
This is different from setting up a Quaker Monastery; which I realize was the original poster's inquiry. Nevertheless, I think the idea of a Quaker Hermit is related, and is perhaps more workable in a Quaker context.
Thy Friend Jim
We in Germany YM, started a discussion this year about seeing if there was a movement of the spirit amongst us, as we know several German speaking Friends living in intentional ecumenical communities.
However I also agree with William, Anabaptists and Catholics seem to have a better knack at living intentionally in Communities of Christ. My work with Christian Peacemaker Team, has however introduced me to the radical commitment one needs for such a way of living.