THIS is a notable book for three reasons. First, it gives a hugely encouraging insight into the development of an intentional community, confirming the realism of the hoped-for new monasticism. Second, it illuminates inclusive theology and practice by demonstrating its refreshing power when it moves beyond laid-back liberalism. And, third, it provides heart-softening stories and poetry that move Richard Carter’s offering way beyond a “how to” manual or the usual analysis upon analysis which so often dogs any talk of city-based ministry.
Don’t be put off by the focus on the city, especially given the boos and hisses that London now receives. Courageous relationships and formative practices have enabled Carter to unfold some important processes, and, whether we are in town or country, north or south, we need this accomplishment for church life in these tricky and troubled times.
Carter is the leader of the Nazareth Community, which has grown, in part, from the work with homeless people and asylum-seekers at St Martin-in-the Fields. Formed in March 2018, those who have embraced this “contemporary rule of life” now number close to 60 people. While the Nazareth Community is newly formed, Carter is conventionally formed, having been a member of the Melanesian Brotherhood in the Solomon Islands for 15 years.
There is a great deal in this book. It is an unpretentious guide that describes in detail the practices that are being developed by this dispersed community. The framework of the book addresses silence, sacrament, service, sacred study, and sharing; such alliteration has become an emblem of life at St Martin-in-the Fields. More significantly, greater attention should be given to the developments and insights that are coming from this church. Few will have the resources that St Martin-in-the Fields can call on, but there may be important learning for us all.
Do not be mistaken in thinking this is a manual for hosting and sustaining a monastic community: it is, but it is much more than this. My first impression was that the sheaf upon sheaf of free verse was just soppy soulfulness of a not-yet-rated poet. Forgive me, because on a closer encounter I realised that I had in my hands a daily companion to prayer. At a time when cynicism easily wins out, Carter’s stories and reflections can shunt repeated disappointments in the direction of the much heathier state of possibility, struggle, and even hope.
Those who have formed the Nazareth Community come from many different walks of life, including those who have known homelessness and those who are refugees. They have created an inclusive community in which diversity is a vital asset and a signifier of God’s abundance. The simple touchstone for inclusion is that we all have fallen short and need a saviour, a saviour who can show us how to live. When we are so aware of the environmental ruin that we have created, this book offers lament as well as possibility — and the tools to foster health-bringing intentional communities right where we are.
Ann Morisy is a freelance community theologian and lecturer.
The City is My Monastery: A contemporary rule of life
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30