Longing for Spring

September 5th, 2012

...Like many other mainline and evangelical Christians, Methodists are beginning to ask probing questions about mission and ecclesiology. Especially among young adults we are hearing people express a desire to engage in rigorous spiritual formation coupled with a life of bi-vocational ministry. Increasing numbers of young seminarians are not planning to go into traditional ordained ministry tracks, but they are passionate about being in ministry to the poor, to disadvantaged children, to the homeless, and the like. In the manner of John and Charles Wesley, these Methodists are interested in leaving familiar confines in order to live their faith in community with those who will not come to the buildings we call “the church.” They are eager to see renewal in the United Methodist Church, and willing to help bring that about. Some of these Methodists are organized into groups such as The New Methodists and the UMC Young Clergy group.1

This grass-roots phenomenon that is emerging around the United States has been called “the new monasticism” but really, as you shall see, it is a lot like early Methodism. In the first Appendix in this book you will find a survey of most of the recent books that cover new monasticism. For now, suffice to say that the new “monks” are women and men of all ages, married and single, some with families. They are of diverse racial, ethnic, and denominational backgrounds, and theologically left, right, and center. Rather than being identified for doctrinal commitments, they are known for a disciplined life of prayer and servanthood, especially in the “abandoned places of empire” (more about that later). Many of the new monks practice “the three R’s” first articulated by John Perkins of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA): Reconciliation, relocation, and redistribution. That is, the new monks live in a stance of radical hospitality. They live and work in ways that cultivate racial reconciliation, relocation to abandoned places of empire, and redistribution of material possessions for the well being of the community. The degree of the three R’s varies from one community to the next.

While most of the new monasticism has emerged outside of the United Methodist Church, increasing numbers of United Methodists are experiencing a sense of call to live and serve in this form of community. Because virtually all the emphases of the new monasticism are consistent with early Methodist vision and mission, we believe that like early Methodism, the new monasticism is a holiness movement.

Our interest in new monasticism has come from our own journeys as well as from the research, writing, and teaching we have done in our work as professors of evangelism at two United Methodist seminaries—Perkins School of Theology (Dallas, TX) and Wesley Theological Seminary (Washington, DC). We are both ordained as Elders in the United Methodist Church.

We decided to write this book in a semi-autobiographical manner, integrating some of the stories of our spiritual journeys with the narrative of monasticism, Methodism, and the rise of new monasticism in the United Methodist Church. We wrote chapters 1 and 6 together. Scott wrote chapters 2 and 3, and Elaine wrote chapters 4, 5, the appendices, and the discussion questions. Our prayer is that this little volume will provide inspiration and hope to those who are longing for a new day for the church, and will help shape our readers’ imagination toward creating dynamic new expressions of Wesleyan community.

1. The New Methodists are not to be confused with the New Methodist Conference, a group that has left the United Methodist Church and has started a new organization. The New Methodists remain committed to the UMC, but are committed to emergence and new monasticism within the denomination.

This article is excerpted from Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker, used with permission.

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