A dispersed monastic order in the 21st Century?

As a mathematician I enjoy looking at orders, to see whether they follow a prescribed pattern. Mathematics is merely a science to seek out a pattern, logical way of describing what is happening. Whether the numbers are changing by simply adding a set number on to the previous value or multiples of the previous value, there is an order which continues onwards, for ever more.

Order flows in nature. This leaf is known, mathematically, as a fractal. The whole leaf has been reproduced exactly in each frond and again in each little leaf from that individual frond. If we could look more closely the original leaf is yet again reproduced exactly the closer we inspect – there is order.

How does that affect us in our daily lives? Well most people might run a mile to avoid the mathematics!

I belong to the Methodist Diaconal Order. All Deacons, whether they be ordained, in probation or even in training, are members. Is it a club that you have to join to be a Deacon? I never realised the importance of the Order until I attended my first Convocation, their name for their annual conference. So what is it?

Let’s start with what a monastic order is, or was supposed to be originally.

From the Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from μόνος, monos, “alone”

From centuries prior to the Christian faith emerging from Antioch other faiths have had monks living a monastic life. The Essenses, living in Judah in the 1st Century BC, elected to opt of Jewish life and reflect by themselves on what they considered important. They would meet at dawn for prayers, and again at meal times, held in silence, interspersed with their daily work in their community.

John the Baptist was another ‘role-model’ as an early-day monk. I enjoyed reading about Saint Jerome, who found the concept of living in a desert as a monk rather problematic; hence found some rather rich Roman widows and virgins and moved in with them. They found this to their liking and upon a pilgrimage to Palestine, founded a church and set Jerome as its head. This is where he commenced the translation of the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Bible into Latin – the Vulgate.

In latter days the Benedictine and Franciscan Order was developed with less emphasis on living a hard life on the monks. They all appeared to also take on a Sisterhood which was showing some form of equality even in those days.

So, it’s a time set apart, by yourselves to reflect on what God is doing in your life.

What of today? The Methodist Diaconal Order has a Rule of Life. It’s not obligatory but they heartily recommended it -as do I!


It provides that rule (not as above!) or pattern in our lives where we can:

  • set aside time in the day for reflection on scripture and prayer;
  • have a time of self-examination to understand where God has been taking us throughout the day;
  • set a time for relaxation in each day, week and year: an annual retreat is also recommended;
  • keep in contact with other members of the Order through various means, especially personal visits and celebrating/commiserating as we walk alongside them on their journey; and
  • develop a relationship with a spiritual director to promote our prayer life and to keep a check on ourselves.

Wow, that looks like a lot! But is it really?

To give ourselves permission to have a small part of the day to be with God, to listen to His word as we read and prayer is invaluable. I find the next one more difficult to schedule but when I have managed it, it has been productive. I have used the Examen from Pray-as-you-Go to be very useful indeed.

Perhaps you could use it on the train/bus ride or in the car driving home?

I’m self-employed currently so it was necessary to give myself a schedule to provide some ‘down-time’. It can all too easy for that time for relaxing to be eaten up with ‘must write up those notes’ etc.

The Rule of Life, for me, reminds me to spare that time as a priority.

The Spiritual Director was a strange oddity for me. I never even knew they existed. Often they appear to be known as Spiritual Accompanists (perhaps on the cymbals and the harp?); however, they have helped me no end. They listen to you, your concerns and how you put that into spiritual practice and then advise accordingly. They sit with you in prayer as you find for yourself your spiritual path. We met every month initially but now that period is extending. Each time we meet I explain how my prayer life has developed, not always in the positive sense, and this does also keep me to account. If I am serious in being with God I do need to focus on what is called the spiritual or, as I deem it, prayer in all its forms.

spiritual direction.png

We are also called to support others in the Diaconate: by means of prayer but also materially. We walk alongside our brothers and sisters, sending cards and/or presents when we face struggles and also in the good times. We are dispersed across the country so it’s good to connect, for our faith is all about relationships.

So to me the Order is not just a club with rules, it is a way of life.

What are your thoughts on this?


2 thoughts on “A dispersed monastic order in the 21st Century?

  1. In CreateLincs we’ve learned a lot from the monastics although we wouldn’t call ourselves monastic. Luminous in Lincoln have been very helpful, especially the idea of sacred spaces (Cell, Chapel, Chapter, Cloister, Refectory, etc.). We’ve also used resources in Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer books and the Prayer of St. Brendan.
    We had some (light hearted) discussion in the early days about fractal theology using romanescu cauliflowers as an image!


  2. I really like this rule. I have found all of these points to be great resources for me – and it would do me good to pay more attention to making each part of the regular rhythm of my life.


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