The Forgotten Monastics
‘It’s not my area of gifting’, Betty informed me. Betty was a kindly lady well into her seventies (1). She reasoned with me in a quite matter-of-fact fashion; I should sit with the clients, and then she, along with the other volunteers would make the tea and coffee, provide the food, wipe the tables and make sure everyone was looked after. Talking and listening was my job.
It was another typically frustrating day. In running this church drop-in I had targets to meet, the internet PCs had to be set up and running so that people could search for jobs, oh, and I had to count how many might be using the services we provided. All the while Mandy wanted to talk to me about her thoughts of suicide, Frank wanted to tell me about his struggles with alcoholism and his search for God, and James wanted someone to sit with him for a while, whilst most of the church volunteers seemed to have other things on their mind…
In the past seven plus years, in running and setting up church drop-ins and trying to empower already-capable volunteers, the day I have just described to you is fairly typical.
Finding rhythms of grace
As a follower of Jesus, I have found myself trying to put into place a daily monastic rhythm in my life — it is something which I have been grappling with for the past seven years. Perhaps it goes without saying, that working in pioneering ministry brings with it the need for rhythms of grace throughout the day, times of reflection, community worship, prayer, silence and a seeking of God’s empowering presence for the broken and heartrending encounters of the day; borne in the need to be firmly rooted in the purposes of God.
However, within this self-examination I have begun to turn my inner reflections outwards, and in doing so I have begun to notice the need for a monastic rhythm amongst those on the margins of our society (2). There is a need for marginalised Christians (or those continually on the ‘edge’ of faith) to be partakers of a new monasticism, a daily rhythm of grace; this is down to the fact that such people battle daily with issues of addiction, of self-loathing, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, etc. Therefore a Sunday service on its own is woefully inadequate in meeting their spiritual needs.
Such people, almost instinctively, search daily for a holy place, a place of sanctuary and shalom, a place which often is found in part, in what we term as the church drop-in or community café. I know of many people who are workless marginalised people on the edge of faith who will enter a different church every day to find their rest. Yes, there are some who look for food, others who look for company, but there are also a distinctive people who look for sanctuary; the peace of God. Within such a people faith in Christ is to be found because Jesus is amongst them, alive and well. I have witnessed stories of miracles, of faith, and sadly, of rejection by church, but still undiminished within them a need to find a Holy space (3). I thank God that He gave me ears to hear their stories, and time to waste with these precious people.
This reminds me of a community of faithful people not unlike the early church in Acts.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47 (NIV)
It is not a huge jump to see the parallel between those travelling Christians and the early church. Perhaps also this is an untapped avenue for growth in God’s church.
What can we do?
Perhaps the challenge is for us to recognise the needs we are (often) unwittingly already fulfilling across church boundaries, and to talk to each other as local missional pioneers. There is no point in trying to take ownership over those who have this daily thirst; anyway it wouldn’t work if we tried! Perhaps though, we can turn our church café’s and outreach ventures, so readily designed to get people to church in a Sunday, into oases of church for the travelling marginalised monastic Christians in our midst.
Can we become proactive vehicles of daily rhythms of shalom amongst the displaced, the downtrodden, the addicted, and the workless? Such a people need, and will find, a more mobile version of ‘church’ whether we are aware of it or not. Could this be the Holy Spirit, the fragrance of Christ, at work in our churches, in spite of our potential indifference?
Inevitably some of these people will find their home at our church on Sunday. A few have found their home in my church; it is a privilege to behold, they have become my best evangelists, perhaps because they exist in a sharing community, in a way that many of us in church do not.
Might these forgotten monastics become a people of more value than we can possibly imagine? To God they are priceless, and even though many will not easily fit into our existing church structures, I thank God for those who simply will not give up on Jesus.
- Name changed, as in all cases thereafter.
- For ‘those on the margins’ read, those in bondage to addictions, to depression, to loneliness and to worklessness, etc.
- A few weeks ago, I was visiting an old church drop-in haunt I hadn’t visited for some time. A young man excitedly spoke to me about his list of drop-ins which covered a different church café for every day of the week—this man is a believer in Jesus, but if you didn’t take time to get to know him you might never guess.
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