This week I’m at a retreat center in Seabeck, WA meeting with 40 or so pastors, writers, bloggers, leaders, and “laypeople” to discuss the creation of a Missional Order. Notables include Andrew Jones, Rick Meigs, Alan Roxburgh, Bill Kinnon, Pete Askew from Northumbria, Bob Roxburgh, Mark Priddy, Len Hjalmarson. I’m looking forward to meeting new friends and to seeing and catching up with others that I “know” online or have only met once or twice before. I also owe Andrew Jones a beer, despite the fact we’ve never met in person before… so hopefully I can pay up. The Internet has really changed social interaction — I’m flying out a day early to spend an evening with old college friends that I’d lost touch with for about twelve or fifteen years before renewing contact through Facebook.
I’m thinking about the missional order, and the apparent contradiction of missional monastics. And Celtic spirituality, of course. Umm, and St. Benedict. Well.
A few short days ago, Len briefly summarized David Fitch’s announcement of a Missional Order, which he describes as “The Rule of St Fiacre Missional Order of Pastor-Servants: Sent Out to Cultivate Christian Communities as Gardens Midst the Cities, Neighborhoods, Towns and Villages of N. America.” St. Fiacre is the patron saint of gardening. It seems this theme is warm at the moment, something stirring perhaps. The timing is right, but the idea is not at all new. Chris Erdman has a collection of posts on a missional order that dates back almost two years — the first few are by Alan Roxburgh — I quote a December 2005 post by Al:
A few weeks ago a number of us visited the UK to meet with Martin and Linda Robinson at Together in Mission to work further on the Intern program. Pat Keifert, Bob Roxburgh and myself were the Allelon crew at these meetings in Birmingham. Later on Bob and I drove from Edinburgh into Northumbria to visit several communities built around the Celtic rhythm of life formed in Northumbria in the 5th and 6th centuries.
The following handful of posts report on our visit with the Northumbria Community. I’ve sought to describe something of our discussions with folk at the community and reflect on its implications for our work in forming a missional order. As you read on these reflections we invite your interaction and discussion among us all.
Al is the driving force behind the Allelon-sponsored missional order conversation this week, and as you can see, it’s been germinating for a while now. He shared more about this with me in person a few months ago, and later posted some thoughts online in this regard. The schedule for this week’s discussions includes time for the Daily Office as well as for reflection, prayer, and discussion. Although I’ve never made a practice of the Daily Office, I’m looking forward to these parts of the schedule as well as the discussions.
On the eve of this extended conversation over the coming week, David Fitch announced the formation of his missional order last week. It could get trendy. David wrote,
Richard Rohr, in chapter 2 of his book Simplicity, talks about the pain of seeing so many missional communities start up and then fold within two to three years of starting. He blames various societal pressures and internal character weaknesses that come with the territory of planting missional communities in North America. I too have seen many missional communities fold in the third year of their existence. I have witnessed burn-out, depression, and disillusionment among the leaders in the 3rd year (sometimes sooner but mostly by the end of the 3rd year).
I’ve observed the same trend regarding home churches (aka missional communities, to some). I’ve attributed this to the dynamics of community rather than to specifically missional endeavours, and will probably discuss further in another post. For the present, I’m considering the requirements of a missional order and whether or not it can should be expected to counter this specific trend. Provisionally, I think not… but an order would help build focused community, countering the trend as a byproduct of its operation but not as part of its raison d’être.
The Rule of St. Benedict was composed in the 6th century, and remains a good pattern for discussions of this nature. “Rule” is probably now a bad term for what we’re describing, as it makes us think of “rulebook”, or law. What we’re really talking about is simply a way of life, an orientation… and these would be better conceptual terms than “rule,” but they don’t have the same tradition or direct association with older orders like the Benedictine or Franciscan traditions.
The remaining question is how monasticism blends with missional living, and whether they are contradictions. To the latter, I think not… but the manner in which they’re complimentary is perhaps a more elusive explanation. When we think of monastic orders, we think of a rhythm of life — both spiritual and physical rhythms. (Perhaps “rhythm” is another good conceptual term for “rule”.) In this respect, it strongly parallels missional living, which also requires an understanding and falling in step with rhythms of life, which one hopes to alter as one walks along. I will be giving this one further thought, but appreciate anyone’s contributions in the comments section below.
I don’t know how frequently I’ll be posting from the retreat this week, if at all — if I do post, it’ll most likely be in the way of a brief update rather than anything substantive. But don’t give up on this place for the week: as is my custom during any absence, I’ve future-posted something for each day so you won’t miss me. Go on and keep the discussion going, say whatever you like about me, and I will probably check in on it during the week. On the other hand, if I’m delayed in responding, you’ll know why. Of those of you who have become friends, e-quaintances, and partners in conversation, I would ask that you offer up a prayer for me this week… first for the missional order conversation itself and the participants there, next for my wife and kids coping without me, and finally for me also. I’m hoping for some productive conversation toward the formation of a missional order, but also looking for a bit of refreshment personally. It’s been a tough year, and I could use a bit of re-envisioning (and rejuvenation) to finish the missional book as well as to move along to whatever comes next.