Project Monastic Pastoral Care

Monastic Pastoral Care

Project Monastic Pastoral Care

Monastic Pastoral Care

In the years 2018 and 2019 the project Monastic Pastoral Care was implemented in the Netherlands, Flanders and Germany. The project consisted of three elements:

  1. A mapping on an ecumenical basis of the existing initiatives and projects of monastic pastoral care in the Netherlands, Flanders and Germany.
  2. A theological reflection on the concepts and strategies implemented by intentional Christian communities in relation to the general restructuring of church structures.
  3. An assessment and evaluation of forward strategies of intentional Christian communities (ICCs) and of the consequent requirements.

1. The mapping

In 2018 and the first half of 2019, the coordinator of the project Paul Wennekes met with representatives of around 120 religious organisations. With one noticeable exception, all organisations immediately agreed to be interviewed and showed a remarkable openness and hospitality. It was striking that on a number of occasions partners stated that they were happy to be able to speak in an unofficial setting about all their worries and problems but also about their hopes, plans and perceived potential. Apparently, such possibilities for informal exchange are limited.

In the course of the year 2018 the term intentional Christian community was introduced to the project. In the original set up of the project the wording was strongly oriented on the orders and congregations of Roman-Catholic background and often the term Religious Institutions (RIs) was used. As the number of contacts with Protestant organisations rapidly grew, the term ‘intentional Christian community’ and its abbreviation ICC became the new standard.  The internationally accepted term of intentional Christian community stands for all forms of organised religious community life and includes, but is not limited to the traditional forms of communities of consecrated life.

Very early on in the project it became clear that instead of questions of organisation, financial models or judicial issues, the most pressing issue for ICCs was the question of identity and spirituality in rapidly changing social and religious circumstances.

In the course of the project, the number of contacts with Protestant ICCs and their umbrella organisations quickly grew and it became apparent, that a surprising number of new organisations and initiatives is developing in especially the Dutch but also in the German Protestant churches. In this way the ecumenical perspective within the project became more important.

The three project countries are all located in the North-Western part of Europa and seem rather similar. During the talks however, it was striking to experience the subtle but important differences in mentality, religious culture, use of certain terms, the way to express an opinion. This is an element to reckon with in future contacts and in exchange among partners in the project.

2. Theological reflection

Dr. Lea Verstricht of the Catholic University of Leuven was responsible for the theological reflection on concepts implemented by RI’s. In the course of the two years of the project she studied a series of documents and publications and spoke with a series of academics. The results of her work were presented in an article and on the academic meeting held on Friday, November 29th in Maastricht; the texts of this academic meeting are published on this website.

3. Assessment and evaluation of forward strategies and requirements

The four major conclusions of the assessment and evaluation are:

3.1: There is a large need for the establishment or strengthening of efficient networks of intentional Christian communities and for the support of cooperation and exchange of best practices among ICCs.

In the talks it became very apparent that there is amazingly little knowledge among ICCs about the plans, activities and initiatives of other ICCs. This goes for the organisations within one denomination in one particular country, even more for the knowledge about ICCs in other denominations. Contacts across the border were even more scarce; information was much less available or shared as was expected, key persons had little knowledge of each other or had never had the opportunity to establish contacts.

As to the Protestant ICCs the impression is that the majority is working rather independently and that umbrella organisations were only recently developed. Interestingly, these (umbrella) organisations seem to have few contacts with Roman-Catholic (umbrella) organisations.

In the course of the talks, a limited number of contacts was made with secular intentional communities on topics like justice and peace, ecology, social justice. These organisations were all on the one hand somewhat surprised to be approached, on the other hand most welcoming and interested in the developments among ICCs; a considerable potential lies in further contacts with secular intentional communities.

3.2: There is large need for the development and implementation of a program of social communication in a secular environment.

In the contacts it became very clear that most ICCs are struggling with the phenomena of secularisation. As the churches in general, ICCs also notice more and more that the knowledge about the contents of religion, about the meaning of religious language and symbols is declining ever more rapidly and no basic knowledge of Christianity can be assumed with the larger part of the public. At the same time a modest but undeniably growing interest in religious life, Christian spirituality, pilgrimage can be noticed. Many Intentional Christian Communities struggle severely to find adequate answers to the growing demands, struggle to deal with the challenges of secularisation. Sometimes the need for good, appealing communication is not seen, or is seen but cannot be realised without outside help. Professional, up-to-date (self) communication is an absolute need for all ICCs in whatever stage of development or completion.

3.3: There is a large need of assisting ICCs in the development of long-term policies.

Among many orders and congregations there is a strong tendency to plan ahead for no more than one or two years, perhaps three years at a maximum. Partly this is caused by the fact that many such orders and congregations are in the process of completion, where there seems to be no need for long-term policy-planning. Partly this is because board members are so involved in every day management that there hardly is time or mental space left for longer term planning. Responsible completion is a necessity in many of the orders and congregations; however, a two-track policy of completion next to openness to a possible contribution to a new or adapted mission, is in many cases possible and desirable. In such cases, long-term policy-planning becomes an (urgent) necessity.

On the other hand, many of the newly established ICCs are still in the phase of development and searching for their identity and missions. Because of this, these organisations are also reluctant in planning ahead for a longer period of time. In order to reach any critical impact in the future, ICCs cannot afford to refrain from long-term policy planning but have to include this in their general policies.

The introduction of the concept of ‘spiritual family’ may be of help in this respect. A spiritual family is seen as the whole group of orders, congregations, lay associations, research institutions, etc. within one large spiritual tradition (fi. Franciscan, Dominican, Ignatian). Long term planning is an necessikty of the whole of such a specific spiritual family and not only of individual institutions.

3.4: The need to raise the awareness on a shared responsibility regarding the spiritual heritage among established and new ICCs.

Many of the newly established ICCs are explicitly linking themselves to one of the established spiritual traditions or are developing an identity by using elements of these traditions. Amazingly enough this seems to happen without involving the (still) present communities which live according to these traditions. As a result, many of these new ICCs fend for themselves and to a certain extent, have to reinvent the wheel.

There is also a modest but clearly growing interest within the broader public in the Christian spiritual traditions and those of orders and congregations in particular. Many of the established ICCs know a reluctance to communicate with the outside world on their spirituality/spiritual heritage. ICCs, including such institutions in the process of completion, are called upon to share from their spiritual ‘treasure trove’ and to respond to the questions and requests from outside of their organisations.

These four main conclusions from the project Monastic Pastoral Care were translated into the four major activities of the follow-up project ‘Networking Intentional Christian Communities’.

The congress of November 29th and 30th 2019 in Maastricht

In the last weekend of November 2019 a series of activities was organised in the city of Maastricht to present a kaleidoscope of results and impressions of the project.

On Friday November 29th, an academic meeting (in English) took place. A number of internationally renowned academics contributed to this meeting which took place in the monastery of the ‘Zusters onder de Bogen’. The texts of the lectures given during the day can be found elsewhere on this website.

On Saturday, November 30th a varied program of lectures and mutual exchange was organised in the Protestant Janskerk in Maastricht. During the day almost 20 different speakers gave short statements on a more personal note. The intention of this concept was to give a face and a voice to the many surprising and encouraging initiatives discovered in the course of the project. In between there was time for informal exchange and about 25 organisations presented themselves in a so-called ‘agora’.

Further contributions by conversation partners

In the framework of the project Monastic Pastoral Care some 120 talks were held; a representative number of these partners was invited as a speaker on the closing meeting of the project on November 30th 2019 in Maastricht. A great many more of the conversation partners had interesting things to say and a number of them has been invited to write a couple of pages on a topic which is specific for their organisation or work. Some 25 articles were presented and these can also be found on this website.