How often have the monasteries been the salvation of the church? Whenever the church became too secularized, it was brought back to the essence of tradition by the monasteries. And when the church got stuck in its own traditionalism, the monasteries started renewal again. And how often were monasteries not also the salvation of society, as beacons of civilization, refuge for the sick, keepers of art and science, places of education, training and thus emancipation? Perhaps it is no coincidence that monasteries are so popular these days. The monasteries as place of tradition and innovation. Would that work again today?
The Boskapel in Nijmegen comes from the monastery tradition. As the chapel of the Augustinians, it was designated after the Second Vatican Council as one of the seven official places of experiment in the country to implement the Council’s innovations. This was perfect for the Augustinians, not only because they had produced a reformer before, but mainly because the spirituality of Augustine himself always calls for change and progress. ‘Keep going, keep making progress. Because as soon as you complacently say it is enough, you will perish ”(Sermon 169:18).
Keep on going
When the Augustinians in 2009 could no longer sustain the Boskapel, the Boskapel community took Augustine’s words to heart and continued independently in the Augustijns Centrum de Boskapel Foundation. A part-time pastor was appointed and substantial investments were made in the choir, church music and liturgy. In this way, the Boskapel could further expand its position as a ‘refuge’ for people who could no longer find their place in the established churches.
However, we were soon overtaken by the ever-accelerating progress of secularization. People just don’t look so much anymore at the churches, not even at churches that offer an alternative. At one point, we formulated the situation for us in this way: ‘In this day and age the question is no longer how the Boskapel can continue to exist, but the question is how meaning and spirituality can continue to exist in society at all. The future of the churches does not lie in further profiling but in collaboration. ‘
In the attempts to survive in our time of decline, you can see two lines in the churches: either the line of turning inward and returning to tradition, or the line of going out and renewal. So on the one hand the line of contraction, merger and withdrawal in, for example, Eucharistic centres. Or on the other hand the line of pioneering, looking outward and looking for new forms.
After a long process of brainstorming, searching and talking to each other, the Boskapel community decided at the end of 2019 to once again respond to Augustine’s ‘move ever further’. We have chosen the line of pioneering and outward orientation. From now on we will continue as Stadsklooster Mariken. A city monastery not as a walled-in claustrum, but a city monastery as an idea. The city monastery must be formed by church communities, educational centres, orders, social initiatives, thinkers and doers, seekers and seers, all of whom are connected to the City Monastery in whatever degree.
At the same time, we have also taken a close look at our tradition. The outward orientation is carried on the inside by the celebrations of the faith community. In this way we hope that tradition and innovation connect with each other. After all, the monasteries always did both: tradition and innovation. Will this monastic tradition be able to offer us a solution again in these times? – It’s going to be an exciting road.
City monastery in a wide landscape of spirituality
In the run-up to this step, the concept of ‘laura’ was brought to us at one point, the archetypal form of the monastery where the hermits lived separately, scattered in a wide area, in their cells and came together at set times to celebrate and to exchange goods and services. Mirella Klomp, assistant professor of practical theology at PThU, speaks in this context of ‘ecclesioscapes’, of landscapes where people share moments of spirituality in various places; think of: museums, concerts, The Passion, Matthew Passion, festivals, silent tours, lectures, exhibitions, meetings, etc. The Stadsklooster should not so much become a new institution, but a joint initiative to give a place to spirituality and meaning in every conceivable way. In 2016 the book by Petra Stassen and Ad van der Helm was published with the title ‘God has moved’. We must move with God.
We are in good company in doing so. Jeroen Jeroense has already propagated the ‘church as a monastery’ and after a bit of browsing on the internet you come across many similar companies. The PKN employs a specialist monastic church and even in orthodox Protestant circles they are working under the title ‘monastic different missionary’. Monastery glossies provide a glimpse into the wonderful world of the enclosure, and while enjoying a monastery beer, many look for the monk in themselves.
It was a long process. It took us six years from the first brainstorming session to the eventual establishment of the Mariken City Monastery. The idea was continuously developed further, we visited similar initiatives countless times, and we had many conversations, very many conversations. The ideas gradually became more concrete, at a certain point we chose a name ‘Stadsklooster Mariken’, because of Mariken van Nieumeghen’s daring to think and live outside the usual also ecclesiastical paths. After four years, we have brought all the ideas together in a memorandum ‘Stadsklooster Mariken – vision, identity, spirituality’.
The key points are:
The Mariken City Monastery builds a bridge between ecclesiastical and social spirituality and is thus a laboratory for a new way of being church.
Cross-pollination, Reinforcement, Quality improvement:
In the Stadsklooster ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical initiatives in the field of spirituality and sense of purpose work together. They learn from each other, strengthen each other, use each other’s expertise. This cross-fertilization provides innovative impulses for those involved, and leads to a quality improvement of the range of meaning available in Nijmegen and the surrounding area.
Church renewal and revitalization:
The broad cooperation and the dialogue with the social, non-ecclesiastical partners forces the church to translate its own spirituality over and over again. The Stadsklooster, for example, is a laboratory for church renewal.
Cohesion and quality of life:
In our neoliberal society, which is characterized by matter, efficiency and market forces, the Stadsklooster ensures that the transcending perspective, spirituality and meaning are given more space and attention in the public debate. The reflection on a transcending perspective and on shared values will contribute to cohesion and quality of life.
It has become a whole document, but if you read it carefully, you will discover that it does not so much record things, but that it mainly points out ways to go and explore. The Mariken City Monastery is not an organized trip, it is an expedition.