Like many monastaries, the Benedictine house at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island is seeing its enrollments dwindle down to next-to-nothing. And they’re trying to reach a new audience using new technology.
From the New York Times:
The Benedictine monks at the Portsmouth Abbey in Portsmouth, R.I., have a problem. They are aging — five are octogenarians and the youngest will be 50 on his next birthday — and their numbers have fallen to 12, from a peak of about 24 in 1969.
So the monks, who for centuries have shied away from any outside distractions, have instead done what many troubled organizations are doing to find new members — they have taken to the Internet with an elaborate ad campaign featuring videos, a blog and even a Gregorian chant ringtone.
“We’re down in numbers, we’re aging, we feel the pressure to do whatever we can,” said Abbot Caedmon Holmes, who has been in charge of the abbey since 2007. “If this is the way the younger generation are looking things up and are communicating, then this is the place to be.”
That place is far from the solitary lives that some may think monks live. In fact, in this age of all things social media, the monks have embraced what may be the most popular of form of public self-expression: a Facebook page, where they have uploaded photos and video testimonials.
A new Web site (portsmouthabbeymonastery.org) answers questions on how to become a monk — one F.A.Q.: “Do I have to give up my car?” (yes) — and print ads announce that “God Is Calling.” Some monks will even write blogs.
“If 500 years ago, blogging existed, the monks would have found a way to make use of it,” Abbot Holmes said. “Our power is very limited. In the end it’s God who is calling people to himself and calling to people to live in union with him. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do our part.”
For some, the technological approach to advertising and marketing may seem at odds with the image of an almost hermitlike monastic existence. Not so, say the monks. The use of technology and social media has been embraced even by the Vatican, which has its own YouTube channel and a Facebook page dedicated to the beatification of Pope John Paul II.
“We were going to do this no matter what, but we are happy that the pope thinks well of this kind of media for our purposes,” said David Moran, director of the monastic renewal program office at the abbey.