I don’t really have time to flesh this out this morning, but as I was eating breakfast and preparing for my Manthano class this afternoon, I found myself thinking about the act of preparing a rule of life. While there is certainly a tradition of an individual rule, for those who are looking to the monastic example, I think we fail to recognize the power of not creating one’s own rule, but rather submitting to a common rule, even when there are things in that rule about which we are ambivalent. Would we not better be served by forming small communities (groups) that adopt a common rule of life and then meet regularly to hold one another accountable for the living of that rule.
That is, of course, exactly what Covenant Discipleship Groups in the Wesleyan tradition are. These groups gather to create a covenant for discipleship (basically, a set of practices around which they will focus their lives) and then meet weekly for mutual support and accountability in living up to the demands of the rule.
This led me to think about the relationship between the Covenant Groups and religious orders, like the Order of St. Benedict. Religious orders are, according to Wikipedia, “an organization, recognised by the Church, whose members strive to achieve a common purpose through formally dedicating their life to God.” That description clearly resonates with the notion of a Covenant Discipleship Group. However, religious orders (from my perspective) involve something more than the common focus and common practices (the rule of life). There is a sense of identity that seems to come with being a part of one of these formal religious orders. Members of these orders will often include their membership in the order in their titles so as to let others know that their identity is connected to that order. Members of the order identify themselves, saying things like “I’m a Benedictine,” or “I’m a Fransican.” While the commitments to these orders are often deeper, involving long periods of preparation and lifetime vows, I find myself wondering if there isn’t something to be learned here as we people to gather in community to develop their own rules of life?
What would it be like to have a congregation composed of a bunch of religious orders? Is there value in having the small group ministry of the church encouraging each group to develop it’s own identity and it’s own rule of life, for which the members of that group hold one another accountable? How would the average United Methodist respond to the notion of membership in an order rather than a participant in a group?
What do you think (I mean you, Steve Mansker!)? Is there something from the monastic model that can be translated to the average congregation?
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