Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam; et non confundas me ab expectatione mea.
Receive me, O Lord, according to your word, and I shall live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.
I am keen to pause before reflecting on the next chapter to note that I have fallen behind in writing my reflections one chapter each week; life just gets in the way sometimes! I will get on to specifics in a moment. Before I do I want to say I remain prayerfully engaged with The Rule of St. Benedict and continue to read and reflect on each chapter in order. What I mean is I am not jumping ahead and planning future weeks. I’m writing as I read. This means that sometimes I misunderstand portions of the text. I have been keen that these reflections are a documentation of learning. I hope that they are helpful to you (please do encourage me with what God has been saying to you as you have read the Rule and shared parts of my own journey).
The part of life that has got in the way over recent months is the ongoing process of discernment as to God’s call on my life. I have returned to a deep sense of vocation to some form of ‘monastic’ life and what that might look like for my wife and I. Clearly being married means that I cannot enter into traditional vows in an established monastic house. I have chosen to take the exclusive vows of marriage (for which I’m grateful) and this means that I can’t also take the vows of monastic orders. I am also committed to the Church of England and feel a call to minister as a priest in it*. This is why I chose, at the beginning of this year, to set aside time to reflect on my unique set of callings that make up my vocation as a disciple of Jesus Christ. This exercise has been a great blessing.
It is clear to me, after much prayer, study and dialogue that Sarah (my wife) and my future lies in the New Monastic movement of the Church. We see that this does not conflict with our sense of calling to the Church of England and to married/family life. In fact it is the call to ‘family’ life that strengthens our sense of calling to the monastic way of life.
Due to Sarah’s health we are unable to have children and it has proven difficult (if not impossible) at this time to go through the official channels of adoption. How do we understand our marriage without the ability to bear children? I am sensing that our call to raising children through extended family ensures an integrity to our marriage as a ‘social office’. We are deeply blessed by the children we have had the honour of walking with for seasons in our roles as uncle/aunt and as ‘godparents’. We love to be an active part in the raising of children, even though we have not been blessed with ones that share our own genetics.
Through my reflections I have become increasingly aware that, although the parish church should be more monastic, it currently is not and nor is it understood as such in any practical way. During the establishment of the Church of England, however, there was a desire for this to be so.
…the reforming vision for parish churches at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries saw the local church as the new accessible local monastery, as the locus for monastic prayers and worship. (Ian Mobsby and Mark Berry, A New Monastic Handbook: from vision to practice (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2014) p.14)
In my current position as Assistant Curate I am in no position to move forward in exploring the potential for a parish church to be a form of monastery. I also struggle to see how possible it would be to explore this vision within the context of a ‘normal’ parish. This call to a form of monastic life, I feel, fits, more realistically, in a para-parish ministry, separate from but connected to the parish system. I think there are large opportunities within the Deanery in which I serve to explore the possibility of such a New Monastic community being established which would deeply strengthen the ministry of the Church in the city. This would require a creative re-imagining of what is possible and beneficial within the current structures of the Church of England but I feel there is strong precedent by pioneers who have taken this journey before us. I think particularly of my brother and sister in Christ, Rev. Ian Mobsby and Rev. Sam Foster.
I have taken a great deal of time in prayer and sort the counsel of elders and friends and feel that the Lord is calling Sarah and I, in the near future, to move on our calling. This will need the blessing of those in authority over me and I will be seeking their wisdom on this matter. I am very aware of timing and there is a danger that I am motivated, in part, by youthful impatience. I have considered this at great length and remain convinced that the time is now for York to begin a process of exploration into this and I’d be interested in being involved.
Please pray for me and Sarah and those who have gathered around us with a similar sense of calling at this time. Please listen to God for His will for us and I encourage you to share words of wisdom with us.
*I am aware also of my vows to the Office of Deacon and this is encompassed into my priestly functions whilst remaining distinct.