Baptist minister James Karran is looking to develop a new monastic community at a Cardiff arts centre. He tells the story so far.
I used to be part of a fresh expression called Solace, a bar church in Cardiff that I started with Church Army officer Wendy Sanderson in 2007. Sadly, Solace came to an end four years later but what didn't come to an end was my vision of incarnational Christian communities that meet in pubs!
The idea of setting up a new monastic community was inspired by a retreat I went on to The Northumbria Community in August 2011 at a time when I was considering where God was leading me next. While there I was thoroughly impressed by the type of community they modelled: namely one defined by openness, acceptance - and, most of all - hospitality. It was this coupled with a long-standing desire of mine to see pubs and bars in Britain 'redeemed' from the bad reputation they currently have that led me to the concept of a new monastic community that was based in a pub or bar.
After the initial inspiration, I began prayerfully pushing doors and this led me to a conversation with the executive director of The Gate Arts Centre in Cardiff, Paul Hocking. Paul, a retired evangelical minister, shared the same vision for authentic, hospitable and incarnational Christian community. The idea of starting a new monastic community at The Gate emerged out of this conversation and the proverbial ball started rolling.
The Gate is perfectly situated to be the soil in which a new monastic community could grow because it has all the key elements – a good reputation, people who regularly come in, existing Christian connections and a bar! There are also amazing opportunities for ministry amongst the groups already connected with the venue.
We had our first community meeting in September 2012 and there were five of us, none of whom really knew each other or had much of an idea of how this would work. All were Christians, but mainly Christians who had been wounded by - or else fallen away from - mainstream church in the past. Since then we have grown to 11 members; some are already followers of Jesus but others have never been to church in their life before. We are currently developing a rhythm of prayer and a 'way of life' for the community to live by, as well as learning in general what it means to be a community of spiritual pilgrims who come from diverse backgrounds.
Our meetings take place on Sunday afternoons at 4.30pm in the Cafe Bar of The Gate and they are always based around a meal. We each contribute an item of food and fit in elements of worship, prayer and reflection around our eating, laughing and chatting together. In this, the meetings resemble something of the Sedar meal of Jewish tradition. The meal element is extremely important and illustrates the emphasis on hospitality that we want to place. Jesus is the ultimate host, inviting us into the great celebration of his resurrection, and we want to incarnate this in the small corner of the world God has placed us in. In this way, the meal also becomes central to our understanding of outreach.
As a community we live by a code of three principles:
- learn from Jesus as best we can – become an apprentice;
- serve others selflessly – become a host;
- never judge anyone for where they are on their own life journeys but to help them discover where God is leading them to next. – become a pilgrim.
This whole venture is non-stipendiary so I have no regular income though I do run a tentmaking enterprise called Solace Ministries - as part of which I conduct religious and civil weddings, blessings and funerals. I am still exploring a vision in the longer term to see a new monastic community that is based in, owns and runs a cafe bar/pub. The 'abbey' or 'Monastery Pub' would be a home, hub and base for the community, providing a centre for meeting, mission and ministry. It would provide a centre to go out from and come home to.
A number of 'new monastic communities' in Britain are geographically dispersed but bound together by a common rule and set of core values. The community I envisage would be of this type. Some members would (by necessity) be geographically located in proximity to the 'abbey', but many others would be elsewhere and find their sense of identity through adopting the community's 'way of life', taking an avid and prayerful interest in the life of the community and 'returning home' to the abbey for family worship celebrations at certain important seasons during the year.
As well as the dispersed community, eventually local communities would be established around the country for localised accountability, prayer support and worship. These smaller communities, known as 'cellae', would be bound together and to the larger community by the way of life, but would also undertake pilgrimages to the abbey at certain times. Establishing these local discipleship communities would be the primary focus for the community's missionary activity.