Protestant Monasticism: An Interview with Shane Claiborne

Protestant Monasticism: An Interview with Shane Claiborne November 11, 2011
Many protestants of the Evangelical persuasion, especially those in the Emergent Church movement, are rediscovering the Catholic monastic tradition and are providing interesting case studies of adapting the monastic way of life in an urban setting, with a matrix of practices that are geared towards the maintenance and revitalisation of local communities and economies. They must be congratulated in their innovativeness in making an ancient and yet still relevant mode of being fit into the dark and oft-ignored crevices of the postmodern city, and in so doing, make a radical yet orthodox challenge to a mainstreamed, bourgeois Christianity.

However one may, and in the spirit of fraternal concern should, question if the movement, in their enthusiasm to make the monastic model fit the contemporary city, either recklessly jettison many of the disciplines in the established monastic rules that give them their distinct character and endurance, or even make themselves extensions of the problem they are trying to combat. One wonders if, for instance, limiting its liturgical life to morning prayer is enough of a liturgical anchor for such communities (compared to as many as 8 times daily under the Rule of St. Benedict), or if the asceticism demanded of the Trappists, for instance,  has lost its radical edge to the extent that it has to be rendered prophetically irrelevant to the city. More fundamentally, there is a question of ecclesiology: how would they conceive their community in relation to the rest of the Church (assuming such communities have a conception of a wider “Church”beyond the local community)?

However, their witness remains an important one. Below are clips from the founder of one of these protestant monastic communities, Shane Claiborne of the Little Way community in Philadelphia. Do not be fooled. Underneath the Southern drawl, tacky wannabe habit and dreadlocks is a highly eloquent and sometimes justifiably challenging articulation of the movement as well as a challenge to middle-class Christendom towards a more communal, mundane, yet more radical mode of discipleship.

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  • The fundamental flaw of any non-Catholic/Orthodox monasticism is the lack of the valid sacramental hub working in the Sacred Liturgy. The question of how well we might be able to bring authentic Monasticism to the modern city is very interesting in itself.
    At a small town in Pennsylvania – Ephrata – there is a heritage Museum site of well intact wooden building of a former Protestant male and female monastic community of German origin, founded I think in the late 18th Century but collapsed in the early to mid 19th Century.They followed the recital of the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours suitably amended to suit their Protestantism. But devoid of authentic Sacramental life, and with the complexity of mixed sexes, it was doomed to failure.
    But the idea of a city monastery within the Church is intriguing. I can't think of any modern example of it. Of course in historical times, towns and sometimes cities grew up around Monasteries – Durham is a good example I think. But for a Monastery to come to a city is intriguing.One can imagine Benedictines perhaps making it work. But it would seem inimical to the Trappist or Cistercian ideal.

  • The fundamental flaw of any non-Catholic/Orthodox monasticism is the lack of the valid sacramental hub working in the Sacred Liturgy. The question of how well we might be able to bring authentic Monasticism to the modern city is very interesting in itself.
    At a small town in Pennsylvania – Ephrata – there is a heritage Museum site of well intact wooden building of a former Protestant male and female monastic community of German origin, founded I think in the late 18th Century but collapsed in the early to mid 19th Century.They followed the recital of the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours suitably amended to suit their Protestantism. But devoid of authentic Sacramental life, and with the complexity of mixed sexes, it was doomed to failure.
    But the idea of a city monastery within the Church is intriguing. I can't think of any modern example of it. Of course in historical times, towns and sometimes cities grew up around Monasteries – Durham is a good example I think. But for a Monastery to come to a city is intriguing.One can imagine Benedictines perhaps making it work. But it would seem inimical to the Trappist or Cistercian ideal.

  • Bex

    One wonders, for instance, why you couldn't at least get the guy's name right.

  • Thank you Vexilla Regis, for your response, and for Bex for pointing out my mistake. The necessary corrections to Claiborne's name have been made.