The number of church members and churchgoers has been steadily declining for years and fewer and fewer people identify with Christian beliefs. At the same time there is an undiminished need for meaning and people are looking for forms of spirituality outside the beaten, institutional church paths. In response to these developments, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) decided in 2012 to free money to realize a hundred ‘pioneering places’: experimental forms of being church, aimed at populations and sectors of our society, that are estranged of the church.
A growing number of these initiatives has ‘monastic’ features. Think of ‘Bid in de Binnenkamer (pray in the inner chamber), a ‘monastery in the cloud’, with a community praying the hours in a virtual monastery and Nijkleaster, a new monastic community around a historic church in the Frisian countryside, where spiritual retreats and pilgrimages are organized, inspired by the spirituality of Iona.
These monastic initiatives are now part of the agenda of the future of the PKN and the importance of learning networks that explicitly focus on these new forms of community is recognized. This is certainly a fascinating development in the context of this study day, because at the same time in your context, that of religious life, ways are being sought to preserve monastic spirituality and its traditions and to unlock them for the future.
This interest in new forms of community inspired by monastic spirituality does not only exist within the PKN, but in the breadth of the Protestant world. Then I think of Ki Tov (in Utrecht, in a building of the Brothers of Tilburg), inspired by the spirituality of Taizé and the Kleiklooster (in Amsterdam South-East), inspired by the Benedictine spirituality.
Meanwhile, within the Protestant language field, there is talk of a ‘new monastic’ movement. We owe this terminology to the American publicist Shane Claiborne, who, moved by the social problems in his city and ignited by the monastic ideals of Benedict and Francis, founded a hospitable community with friends. This initiative grew into a community movement called ‘new monasticism’. Common denominators are peaceful, contemplative and ‘ordered’ living, hospitality towards foreigners and ecological awareness (defined in 12 Marks of a New Monasticism, Wilson-Hartgrove, 2005, xii-xiii). Claiborne’s ideas also inspire young, originally Orthodox Protestants in the Netherlands, whom we find among the residents and initiators of city monasteries and Christian communities.