The purpose of religious life is to organise daily life in such a way that it promotes the deepening of a religious tradition. It is also essential for new initiatives that everyone who participates has a warm heart for the Christian tradition as a source of inspiration and wants to do something with it in his/her daily life. Monastic life dates back to the beginning of Christianity, long before it split into East and West. Since the split between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in the West, religious life has been practised almost exclusively by Catholics; however, interest on the Protestant side has been growing for some decades, at least in the Netherlands.
In recent centuries, monastery life has taken shape within mostly large religious institutions. Renewal, however, almost always starts on a small scale. My expectation is that in the future it will not so much be orders and congregations that form the organizational basis of religious life, but that it will often be local initiatives in which people commit themselves to a form of religious life for a short or longer period of time. The local initiatives are independent, although the residents are probably (hopefully) interested in other initiatives and in the exchange of information and experiences. Initiatives can arise in existing monasteries, as is the case in Saint Agatha, but also in other places. Where they originate in existing monasteries, they take along, at least at the start, the atmosphere that already characterizes this place.
Two elements seem to me to be indispensable for the viability of a monastic initiative: a religious living atmosphere and a common project. Both do not have to be put on super-heavy (‘our spirituality’, or ‘our mission’), but must be present. The religious sphere of life comes about through a concrete practice, in which people feel involved.
At the moment that many orders and congregations lost their familiar activities (1960s), the reason for joining became unclear. Since then they have refocused on their founders and their spirituality. Attention to their own spirituality as an identity-determining factor is often more self-evident to them than to outsiders. I don’t think it’s a problem to delve into the ideas of different traditions (Franciscan, Benedictine, Vincentian, etc.) at the same time. They do not exclude each other.
The way of life and activities in a ‘monastery of the future’ will partly be determined by the people who participate in it, partly by the typical elements and the (im)possibilities of the place, partly by the religious tradition. Religious are indebted to the past and contribute to passing on of a religious tradition to the future. Not everything is possible in every location. City monasteries can be found in the city. For contemplative monastic life, the rural area is the most appropriate environment. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in one place, feel free to look elsewhere; moving needn’t be a bigger problem within monastic life than outside. For an initiative to succeed, it is important that the possibilities of the location match the wishes of the ‘religious’ on the spot.