New Monasticism, New Friars and The Third Order

February 15 2008 

To Our Dear Friends & Family, 

Let me first say a big thank you for all of your love and support during Chris and my sabbatical.  We had an amazing 5 months of rest last year beginning with our pilgrimage in May and continuing at the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School during the fall.  The time away was beautifully life-altering and enriching.  We trust the ground of our souls that lay fallow during that season will cultivate enduring fruit in the coming years.

Transitioning out of sabbatical and into active life has taken longer than we expected.  To go from complete withdraw and deep rest to re-engagement and service is a process.  It is an adjustment physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  We have taken a slow and deliberate pace and the Omaha community has been so gracious.  We have had a sweet time re-connecting with one another and celebrating friendship.  In regard to "work" Brent, Daphne and Amanda have been patiently and thoroughly bringing us up to speed on the life of the international community.

The Journey

Roughly 13 years ago, in 1995 I began my journey with WMF.  Together with some friends we traveled to India, connected with Chris, and met Patrick and Victoria Samuel, their daughters and the children.  It was then that I also visited Calcutta for the first time and met the Missionaries of Charity.  That summer was life-changing of course.  I met Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor and He took me to the far-reaching limits of my body, mind and soul.  Like many of you, my perspective on God, the world, the poor, and my view of self was radically shaken.  In 1996 I began my formal service with WMF.

For all of my adult life I have served with our community, being formed by you and the poorest among us. With an ache in my heart and tears in my eyes (and throat—is that possible?) I think of Armstrong and Sindujah in Madras; Samulee and Tuna in Kolkata; Amani in Kathmandu; Valentina in Romania; Little Victor in Peru; and the list of teachers goes on… I have been shaped by orphaned children, children forced into combat, abandoned widows, the destitute and dying.  I feel that I am one of the most privileged women in the world, having received from the riches of the poor.  As a young and ambitious 20-something, I thought I had something to offer and totally underestimated how much I needed to receive. 

What I learned then and am still learning is about relationship.  From relationship I am compelled toward compassion and lament; justice and peace; grace and reconciliation.

So today as I try and get my mind around re-entry from sabbatical I am taken to the depths of gratitude for you because you offer a relationship in which Chris and I can live our vocation.  It is my honor and privilege to hold hands with you and journey together.

As we re-enter active service with WMF we want to communicate our love and gratitude for you.  You are what Christian historians might compare to the third order.  I'll do my best to explain.

Monasticism, Friars and the Third Order

Okay, get ready.  This is a VERY general overview. 

You may have heard of a growing movement among evangelicals called "new monasticism."  There's a book published by Cascade Books called School(s) for Conversion: 12 marks for a New Monasticism and another by Scott Bessenecker called The New Friars.  In the past ten years or so there has been a growing trend among radical western evangelicals toward some of the traditional Christian monastic ways of life.  Traditional monasticism is characterized by cloistered life, keeping the hours of prayer, and a common way of living together.

Among evangelicals these new monastic communities (as they have been called) are taking shape among groups like The Simple Way (Shane Claiborne) and The Rutba House (Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove).

The so-called "new friars" are becoming known as those evangelical communities who not only practice some of the traditional monastic devotions, but are also called to a specific ministry or service in the world; groups like Word Made Flesh, Servants to Asia's Urban Poor, Servant Partners and InnerCHANGE.

The third order are those like you, who surround a called and set apart group (traditionally friars), ascribe to the same values and pray and support the ones who go into the world in a shared service of humanity.

Saint Francis of Assisi is well-known for having established three orders. The first order was for friars. He called it the Friars Minor meaning the "Little Brothers." The second order was for nuns. He established it together with Saint Clare of Assisi.  It is named for her, the Poor Clares and their order is marked by contemplation.  The third order was established for laymen and women.  It is known as the 'Third Order of Saint Francis' or, more formally, the Secular Franciscan Order.

Though groups like WMF are getting labeled as "new monasticism" or "new friars", we want to be clear that historical Christian monastic orders, friars and nuns are still very much relevant today.  The vows and devotion that these men and women commit to are honorable and admirable.  They are our teachers.  The only thing that is new about "new monasticism" or "new friars" is that in the short history of the evangelical movement, we have not seen communities quite like this taking shape; so honoring a more monastic way of life among evangelicals seems to be "new."

Some of you have journeyed with WMF and Chris and me for nearly fourteen years.  We see you as our spiritual community or "third order."  You too have a specific vocation to living out your Christian faith in the context of an impoverished world.  The way you have partnered with us is no small thing.  The way that you live out the values and lifestyle celebrations of WMF is a testimony of the life and ministry of Christ. 

And we want you to know that your prayer, financial and moral support is vital for our being able to live out our vocation.  Likewise, your relationship to WMF is crucial for its sustainability and longevity.  We are a part of one another, each being faithful to our unique vocations within a shared calling to Christ and his Kingdom.

With sincerest gratitude we thank you.

 

 

Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; an suddenly you are doing the impossible.

                                                                              &nbsp
;                    —-St. Francis of Assisi

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